Dreamgirls is this year's King Kong, a reminder of what lavish studio productions can be. It's Motown meets Broadway in Hollywood, full of energy and moving emotions.
Movie Review: Dreamgirls
This story of the rise of a female singing trio covers the classic celebrity tale of big dreams, cold realities and devious relationships. The Dreamettes become involved with producer Curtis Taylor Jr. who quickly molds them into pop stars, at the expense of their friendship.
First of all, the music rocks. The performance numbers are lively and when the cast sings the plot, it's even more powerful. Most of the songs sound similar to well-known hits but they're distinct enough to feel original. You just recognize the motifs from the era but get to enjoy new tunes (unless you've seen the Broadway show and then they're just more classics.)
They ease into the full on musical conceit, beginning with just stage shows and musical montages. You get the best musical montages this side of a sports movie as we see the Dreamettes first song hit the charts, Taylor raising money for their solo project and anything else that takes more time than a single camera trick can convey.
When they finally break into a full on singing plot, you'll want to stand up and applaud until the guy behind you kicks your seat. I can say a cliché like that because I sincerely could not contain myself. The three-part song midway through the movie, where Jennifer Hudson explodes in all her power, Jamie Foxx slithers in with his smooth evil and even the underplayed Anika Noni Rose gets a few bars to shine, is gripping. And it only gets better from there.
To say Jennifer Hudson steals the show is unfair, because she just has the juiciest part. As Effie, the real voice of the group, she becomes bitter at the attention the more glamorous Deena (Beyonce Knowles) gets. When Taylor's business plan pushes her back, she gets really despondent and gets to perform an entire life falling apart. She does it awesomely, but remember the plot insists that she have the best voice and get the most depressed.
Beyonce should be credited for allowing the film to utilize her as a more poppy singer. She tones it down for the parts that need her to be generic, but does get a chance to show that she is actually a singer. Acting-wise, the film covers so much in brief segments of time that she has to show years of growth in a single scene. It all works.
Jamie Foxx is a true life villain. Nothing he does is necessarily wrong. His success has proven that he knows what he's doing. It's just so slimy that you start to resent how seductive he is. Foxx has no vanity about being unlikable and earns his star billing for setting everyone else's performance in motion. I would have loved to hear him sing on screen more, but the moments he does are wonderful.
Eddie Murphy is the Bobba Fett of this movie You see him just enough to care. He should do more wild supporting characters like the horndog singer who ultimately becomes the most vulnerable character. Check him out in next year's Norbit.
As I mentioned, Rose hardly gets anything to do in the film. She is truly the middle child, the backup singer who is never even considered a star nor wants to be. She's got a good voice but usually blends in with the others. If anything, she serves Murphy's character as a thankless love interest. For her to have tried stealing any scenes would have been inappropriate and I give her respect for playing a necessary role dutifully.
The scenes of cultural history are woven into the story flawlessly. Okay, maybe recording an album in the middle of the Watts riots is a stretch, but it's dramatic. Drug culture enters in without pounding it over the head, racial issues are demonstrated with preaching and the evolution of music unfolds in the ultimate battle of art versus pop.
The only thing I noticed was it seemed like some of the lip syncing performances were smaller than the music they were matching. These are some pretty powerful singers, and as actors, even they couldn't match the energy. Oh well, what am I going to do, nit pick the technical process of recording musicals on film? The movie's too good to get caught up in that.
Dreamgirls is massive entertainment. It's got music, stage shows, history, culture and spectacle.