Sunday, February 04, 2007

Film review - Dreamgirls

Dreamgirls comes with a clutch of Academy Award and other nominations: it's an adaptation of a Broadway musical telling the story of a sixties' girl group, called the Dreamettes, later The Dreams. Three Detroit friends and singers, Effie (Jennifer Hudson), Deena (Beyonce Knowles) and Larell (Anika Noni Rose) attend a talent show one evening for the chance of a week's residency at the theatre. Although their act goes down well with the crowd, they don't actually win. Instead, they, and Effie's brother C. C. (Keith Robinson), who writes their songs, are offered another chance by an agent, Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) to sing back-up for a more established act, the womanising Jimmy "Thunder" Early (a stunningly be-quiffed Eddie Murphy). Reluctantly, the girls accept this gig, and the story of the Dreamettes begins.

The film charts their rise, as they break through restrictive playlisting practices with the help of Taylor and a lot of dodgily-gained money to gain the top of the pop charts. Along the way, Effie loses it, Deena gets the lead singer gig in place of Effie (leading to a climactic R&B number sung by Hudson which prompted a round of applause in the cinema last night!), a replacement, Michelle, is found (Sharon Leal), and the Dreamettes become Deena Jones and the Dreams as their appeal crosses over to both white and black audiences.

Although the disclaimer at the end of the film states that any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental, this is arrant rubbish. The Dreams are very clearly based on The Supremes, with Deena being a rather nicer Diana Ross, and Effie based on Florence Ballard, with Curtis a thinly disguised Berry Gordy.

As to the performances, well, Murphy and Hudson deserve their acting nominations. Hudson, in particular, given that it's her first film role, and that Effie is such an important character. Beyonce Knowles reputedly lobbied hard for the part of Deena, even performing in costume and with choreography at her audition, though in the film, Deena doesn't actually do very much. Whether this is because Hudson's personality as Effie is so dominant, or whether Deena was meant to be a less important character is unclear. Certainly, her big number at the end of the film, Listen, was written for the film, and didn't form part of the original stage production. Foxx convinces as the morally ambivalent Taylor, who is willing to do almost anything for his groups to succeed, and becomes a control freak. Murphy, too, turns in a well-tuned performance that runs from hyper antics on stage, to depression and drug abuse.

The singing is excellent, with all the main characters singing their own numbers. It's a little disconcerting to find that some of the explanatory songs, forming part of the narrative, following on (more-or-less) naturally from the dialogue, but in the main, this is done well, and is usually not too silly. Suspend your disbelief, really, and imagine you're going to a filmed musical (but better).

One thing, though – if you don't like R&B of any description, don't go. There is a lot of singing...



At Mon Feb 12, 11:20:00 pm, Blogger First Nations said...

oh hot DAYUM. i am so there. if you say the singing's worth it, then the singing's got to be worth it. bonus!!!!!


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