Dreamgirls chronicles the discovery and rise to fame of The Dreamettes, a trio of female singers from Detroit hoping to make it big in the world of music. The group, comprised of Deena Jones (BeyoncÃ© Knowles), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) and Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) are incredibly naÃ¯ve and eager for success. So much so that when Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx), a car salesman and aspiring record producer, offers them an opportunity to perform as back-up singers for the legendary James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy), they jump at it.
As the girls begin to tour, it seems Curtis’ dream of opening up white America to the sounds of black musicians is on the cusp of being realised. Re-launching the girls as a solo act – now The Dreams – they attain what they’ve always wanted (fame and glory) but this also has its sacrifices: Effie, the lead singer and most vocally talented of the three, is relegated to backup and replaced with Deena because, according to Curtis’ marketing mind, she best suites the image he is trying to create for the group. This new arrangement, as you can imagine, begins to place strain not only on the group but also the relationships therein.
Dreamgirls is yet another Broadway-to-screen adaptation that has its heart in the right place but, unfortunately, is one that doesn’t crossover well to film. Much in the same way as the 2004 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, Dreamgirls suffers from being too ‘heightened’ for much of its running time. What I mean by this is that the film never lets up with its musical numbers and singing. I realise that a musical, by its very nature, is meant to be filled with these two elements but Dreamgirls is more a 131-minute music video than a film.
Director and writer Bill Condon (Chicago, Gods and Monsters) does not let the storytelling elements of this story breath. Narrative and character development are (much like Effie) forced to take a back seat to over-extended songs and singing that – while impressive at the start – soon become boring to watch. The majority of the film and its development take place in numerous montage sequences that simply gloss over details and intricacies that should have been dealt with in more detail. As the film rolled over into its second half I found myself cringing when I knew a new song was about to start. That’s incredibly sad because if a bit more restraint had been exercised I would now have been saying much more positive things about Dreamgirls.
The primary reason to go and watch this film is for the performances from American Idol star Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy. Both are impressive and Hudson gives a performance that should earn her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that she has been nominated for. The highlight of the film is her rendition of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. She belts out this song with such force and passion that it instantly becomes a career defining moment for her. People will remember Hudson for this song/scene. Unfortunately, this climax takes place in the middle of the film and, as a result, the rest of Dreamgirls is rather anti-climactic. It – past this point – rides things out to a very predictable and uninspired ending.
I’ve always been extremely critical of Eddie Murphy for not taking a bigger step into dramatic territory. There have been films where he has had to stretch himself in a more serious genre, but I always got the impression that he was afraid to commit himself fully to a serious performance. In Dreamgirls he does this in a way I don’t think I’ve seen happen before.
The character of Early is a great role for Murphy because it is as multi-faceted as the comedic star. Early is a bit crazy and extremely over the top but, like most eccentrics, there’s a melancholy side to him. Murphy shows that he is able to depict each phase of Early’s development with great skill and intuitiveness. He proves that he is a true performer by not only acting but also singing and dancing throughout the film with incredible energy.
Dreamgirls is another example of a film hyped beyond what it does and can deliver. It by no means is a terrible watch but it, in my opinion, did not deserve the Golden Globe it won for Best Picture for a Comedy or Musical. It’s simply too much of a musical and not enough of a film.