Since “Moulin Rouge” was dubbed the second coming of the movie musical in 2001, audiences have been waiting for that second coming. “Chicago” was a hit in 2002, and now “Dreamgirls” 2006. But with it too being dubbed the second coming of the movie musical, I’m left to wonder, just how long will we have to wait for that genre to be fully realized in the 21st century?
“Dreamgirls” is the story of a struggling girl group called The Dreams in the 60’s and 70’s, based on The Supremes. Pop superstar Beyoncé Knowles, relative newcomer Anika Noni Rose and former “American Idol” contestant Jennifer Hudson star as Deena, Lorrell and Effie (respectively) the groups founding members. The movie tracks their ascension to stardom, with the help of manager Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx) and their writer/choreographer C.C. (Keith Robinson). The girls start as the back up singers for soul star James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy), and soon eclipse him in popularity. On the brink of making it big, Effie catches diva fever and is asked to leave the group. From then on it’s torrid love affairs, drug use and backstabbing, everything you’d expect from a musical biopic.
Murphy is fantastic as Early, who is probably based on a composite of Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye and James Brown. He was a dynamite performer, hitting with dead on accuracy the on stage antics and mannerisms of a 60’s soul and R&B singer. Knowles in the Diana Ross inspired role of Deena Jones was impressive, both vocally and dramatically, and comes into her own as an actress. Foxx and Robinson are both engaging in their supporting roles
Hudson is garnering the most notice from award shows and major critics. And I for one don’t understand the accolades. It was her film debut, and it showed. She can sing, and I’ll give her that. She has an amazing set of pipes on her. But in a film, even a musical, vocal talent is only a portion of what makes a great performance. Her acting was right at where I’d expect a newcomer to be. It needs work. It wasn’t quite there for me. And for that, I can’t really understand why she’s getting the most notice.
Where this film really falls apart is the storytelling. Director Bill Condon adapted Tome Eyen’s stage musical, and it’s poorly structured. It reminds me of when a five-year-old is telling a story, it just comes across as “and then this happened, and then this happened and then this happened” with absolutely no grasp of flow or basic story telling elements.
There seemed to be a heavy emphasis on style over substance. It was flashy, shiny, and hits you with a beautiful visual presentation, but there wasn’t much more to it than that. It’s almost fitting that a former “American Idol” contestant stars in this movie, as the best way to describe it is a quote often used by “Idol” judge Simon Cowell: “Yeah it was good, but so what?”
I was entertained, and it was pleasing to the eye, but at the end of the flick, I didn’t really care. It was two shallow hours. It’s not a bad thing, but this film was made with higher intentions than sheer entertainment, and it failed to achieve those higher intentions.