Cinema Signal:

Broadway Musicals:
The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time
. "Dreamgirls"

This movie version of a Broadway musical about the rise of a musical act and the ultimate corrupting power of success doesn't translate so well to film. People who hold musicals as dear and inviolate as church doctrine will brook no criticism of it, while more dispassionate eyes will see it as a synthetic hybrid art form that takes liberties with cinematic values.

Two opposing viewpoints. Sort of like democrats and republicans.

Please do not criticize me for not appreciating the form. I don't much, which admittedly makes me more citical in terms of film versions, but that didn't stop me from supporting "Chicago" as the best film adaptation I've seen to date. (Also loved Bob Fosse's brilliant "All That Jazz"). "Dreamgirls," with all its production beauty, pizazz and great music doesn't alter that comparative judgment.

Taking The Supremes as its model, a trio composed of two beautiful African American girls (Beyonce Knowles as Deena; Anika Noni Rose as Lorrell) and one not so beautiful (overweight and overhyped Jennifer Hudson as Effie) with an ascendant voice that could dominate the gospel charts if there were such a thing, try, in their amateur-level way, to vie for some recognition during a period when black musicians are mostly condemned to the "Negro-music" bins by the white-run record companies. No one's really looking for another Louis Armstrong.

Still, black music acts are booked into nightclubs and promoter Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) recognizes that this trio has possibilities. Effecting a manner of sincerity worthy of the car saleman that he is (he's a partner in a Cadillac dealership in Detroit), he puts them into locally known Jimmy Early's (Eddie Murphy) act as backup singers. When Effie starts up with her self-image of superiority by refusing to sing backup for anyone, she's outvoted. These girls regard the flashy R&B singer as a god. Until, of course, they get to know him better.

The die is cast and the act takes a path of very familiar Cinderella stories. Of course, the actual talent of the women fully merits it, with Effie developed as the bad, bad girl whose always throwing a monkey wrench into the redesign of the act that's needed for the mainstream audience. She's the heavy of the piece (in more ways than one), constantly screaming about not being recognized for her superior voice and throwing a monkey wrench into the rising success of the group. All too often, she sings about it in pushy, screachy fashion, thinking she needs to break our eardrums to get her point across.

You also never know when a narrative scene is going to break out in song, and it does all too often for my taste, coming off as abrupt, timesome and awkward. Hudson not only sings about her disappointment once, but twice, the 2nd of which had me nearly running for the exit. She's far too unsypathetic a character for this sustained self pity, suggesting that the book on this production leans toward artistic messup.

On the other hand, the movie resounds with true artisty in performance, with which it's credibly and thankfully saturated and, in part, by a nicely controlled, spirited role by Murphy. Then, there's one more payoff for those who may be reluctant about musicals. Stunning Beyonce Knowles. A voice, to be sure, but also one of the great beauties in the performance arts. This is used to good advantage in the storyline and without a need for hype or falsity. Knowles, particularly under the light and lens of cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, is comparable to Monica Bellucci and Jennifer Connelly for stellar, exquisite looks.

So, it's a mixed bag. It contains a nice supporting performance by Danny Glover and probably his best of the last couple of years; and good work by Rose and her replacement in the act, Sharon Leal, another good casting. Foxx fits his role nicely without going overboard on the slimy oportunist cliche'. Murphy, it seems to me, breaks new ground with an assured rendering of stage personality dynamics and earns himself new respect with his spot-on characterization and performance numbers. Do I see a Best Supporting Actor nomination?

Production values are close to impeccable. Fanatical fans of the form will not want to miss this movie version with its dazzling production numbers so well lit, costumed, choreographed, recorded (soundtrack link below) and all the rest of the outstanding technical contributions. Fans will assemble themselves into a chorus to sing its praises.

Meanwhile, the studio publicists have been mounting a campaign blitz that could finance a war in order to solicit Oscar votes and to generate sellout crowds; and some critics have been rating it highly despite panning it. (As though they're afraid to tell us what they really think). And, I'm not saying it's not entertaining -- just that it'll work best for a properly receptive audience who will, of course, want to immediately get the very stimulating, readily available soundtrack (made convenient to do, below).

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

(Two-Disc Showstopper Edition)

The Blue-ray DVD


DVD Features (all formats):

  • 12 never before seen extended musical numbers
  • Music video "Listen" by Beyonce Knowles, Dreamgirls soundtrack promo
  • Behind the scenes full-length documentary "Building the Dream"
  • (HD) Auditions and screen tests
  • Previsualization sequences
  • Additional featurettes
  • And... even more!

    The Soundtrack

    Opinion Section
    Comments from readers:
    Well written
    I've seen the movie and agree with the review
    Site rating: 10
    I would agree with your review. For me, I was dissappointed that none of the actual songs by the Supremes made their way into the movie. I very much disliked that they tried to make it into an opera, that made the movie cheezy for me. Jennifer Hudson was great, but over done at times, like the song when she leaves the group - it went on forever with the same lyrics over and over.
                                                               ~~ Joanne C. 
    Very well written
    This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer.
    I've seen the movie and I agree with the review.
    Site rating: 1
    Eddie Myrphy does a star turn; Costumes deserve an academy award;Not a fan of Miss Hudson's belting style a la Patti La Belle; Beyonce sings lyrically as is the style of Gladys Knight.
                                                               ~~ Claudia 
    I've seen the movie and I agree with the review.
    Site rating: 6
    The biggest flaw of the movie other than the marginal songs and the fact it is a "quasi-musical" is that the characters lack depth. The movies only saving grace is that it is visually pleasing which is largely credited to the spectacular presence of Beyonce Knowles.
                                                               ~~ Rob O. 
    Very well written, Perceptive
    I've seen the movie and I agree with the review.
    Site rating: 8
                                                               ~~ C. Sun 
    Well written
    I've seen the movie and: I disagree with the review
    Site Rating: 5
    I would have to disagree about the performance of Jennifer Hudson, i think that her singing and her passion for the role was greatly shown and heard through the power of her voice. if you understood how and why African Americans sing the way they do, you would have to eat your words about the talented Miss Hudson.
                                                               ~~ Mone' 
    [Ed. note: Concern with acting ability in a movie, and shrill over-delivery of a song show lack of understanding of how and why African Americans sing the way they do? Gee. Sorry I didn't make this connection.]

    Phillip Ruland put it this way in his letter to the L.A. Times:
    "'Deamgirls' is a rather bad film. The film's main narrative is unmoving and predictable. The songs are unremarkable at best. Many have raved about Jennifer Hudson' performance, but I thought it overwrought and one-dimensional. What is the Effie White character but a delusional, whiny, selfish drone?"

    This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer
    Site rating: 5

                                                               ~~ java 

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    A Vegas act; A rise to stardom: Broadway musical to film.
    Anika Noni Rose, Beyonce Knowles and Sharon Leal.

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