I originally had not planned to see Bill Condon’s Dreamgirls. However, after reading glowing reviews, hearing constant Oscar talk and positive word of mouth from most people I know, I walked into the theater expecting the musical equivalent of Titanic. Perhaps my expectations were too high because by the end of the film, I was nearly asleep.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t an awful film. However, it appears to be overhyped, possibly for political reasons. Until recently, Hollywood has downplayed African American actors. Films that deal with African American culture have not always fared well at the box office despite their excellent quality. So, is Hollywood, as well as movie critics, trying to make up for this poor judgment by taking your regular average film and turning it into an Oscar-worthy film?
Some of the performances are definitely Oscar worthy. Eddie Murphy gives the greatest performance of his career as James “Thunder” Early, the R&B singer who gives the girls their big break. Jamie Foxx gives a moving performance as Curtis Taylor Jr., a booking agent who ends up not being the angel he appears to be in the beginning of the film.
Jennifer Hudson is the real star of this film. Not only is she convincing as Effie White, the girl who causes trouble with the Dreamgirls and eventually gets kicked out, but her singing brings the audience to its feet. Her performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” actually earned a standing ovation and this is something I’ve never seen in a movie theater before. These excellent performances, unfortunately, don't necessarily make an excellent film.
There is one major leech in this film and that is Beyonce Knowles, who plays Dreamgirls lead singer Deena Jones. The producers of this film should have realized that a cookie cutter R&B artist who is remotely controlled by her father does not necessarily make a good actress. Throughout the film, Beyonce seems, well, remotely controlled. She was supposed to be the big star of this film but ends up being a flat raspberry. She is particularly flat when oversinging “Listen”. This comes as bad news for Beyonce’s overbearing father, Matthew.
The film often abruptly goes from spoken dialogue to singing, which might have worked on Broadway, but doesn’t always feel right in this film. The music itself makes the viewer wish that they had abandoned some of the original Broadway music and replaced it with more of a Motown sound.
The worst part of the film is the way it drags on and on and on and on. Cutting this film by at least a quarter would have made the final scene in the movie, where the Dreamgirls reunite, more effective. But the reaction to this scene becomes more like “Finally!” than “Wow!” After this final scene, the audience did clap. Were they clapping because the film was finally over?