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Pretty Crappy29.46%
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Diva Not-So-Supreme"
3 stars

The good news about “Dreamgirls,” the long-awaited big-screen version of the enormously popular 1981 Broadway musical, is that it isn’t as conceptually suspect as the overrated “Chicago,” it isn’t as cinematically clunky as “The Producers” and it certainly isn’t as much of an affront to the senses as the disastrous adaptations of “Rent” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” The bad news is that while it may be a better movie musical than those recent efforts, it still isn’t much of a movie in its own right..

Loosely inspired by the landmark pop group the Supremes–both their enormous popular triumphs and their well-publicized inner turmoils–“Dreamgirls” charts the personal and professional roller-coaster ridden by three young Detroit women in the 1960's whose lives are torn apart by the hideous bitch goddess known as success. When we first meet the Dreamettes–brassy lead singer Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) and co-horts Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Ross)–they are performing in a Detroit amateur talent show and despite the fact that they clearly have the goods, they fail to win the contest. However, they are noticed by Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), a would-be music mogul who hires them to serve as backup singers for R&B sensation James “Thunder” Early. The combination works both professionally and personally–Lorrell begins an affair with the married James while Effie and Curtis become lovers–and when it soon becomes evident to all that the Dreamettes have far too much talent, Curtis takes them off on their own to form a solo act with songs written by Effie’s brother, C.C. (Keith Robinson). After the newly rechristened Dreams make their solo debut, Curtis decides that the more pop-oriented sound (not to mention look) that he is going for would be better served with Deena as the lead singer and Effie relegated to the background . Effie grudgingly agrees out of her love for Curtis but her increasingly diva-like behavior gets her kicked out of the group for good and replaced by the less talented but far more malleable Michelle Morris (Sharon Leal).

A few years pass and the Dreams are the biggest group in the country and Curtis, now the head of a music empire, has decided to expand his horizons by bankrolling a wildly expensive film version of the life of Cleopatra that will star Deena, who has become his wife in the interim. At the same time, he refuses to let James, now in the midst of a career skid fueled by an increasingly heavy drug habit, to record some innovative new music written by C.C. on the theory that audiences don’t want to listen to songs of social protest–this move leads to C.C. leaving the label and James to a bridge-burning breakdown during a television performance that eventually leads to tragedy. As for Effie, she is living in near-poverty as a single mother struggling to rebuild her musical career from the bottom up. As an act of reconciliation, C.C. writes a song for Effie that begins to make some noise on the charts until Curtis vengefully scuttles its chances by rushing out a tacky disco version from the Dreams, who are unaware of Effie’s involvement in the original. Already chafing under Curtis’s controlling nature, Deena decides that this is the final straw and takes control of her life and career for the first time in a finale chock-full of surprise revelations, tearful reconciliations and every character getting more or less what he or she deserves.

People have struggled to get a film version of “Dreamgirls” going ever since it premiered on stage a quarter-century ago but it is probably for the best that those attempts fell through because if they had, it is unlikely that they would have found equivalents for the two most memorable aspects on display. The first is Eddie Murphy’s triumphant portrayal of James “Thunder” Early, a performer who starts out along the lines of James Brown and who eventually develops into an amalgam of such tragic figures as Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. It is no secret that Murphy, once the biggest movie star in the world, has had a bumpy career as of late that has seen him squandering his prodigious talents on inexplicably cruddy star vehicles (“The Adventures of Pluto Nash”) or silly kid movies (“Dr Dolittle” and “Daddy Day Care”). When he received the script for “Dreamgirls,” he must have realized that this might be his last shot to prove that he could still tackle top-grade material, even if it was a supporting role, and he has responded to the challenge with what is easily the most full-blooded and fully committed performance of his entire screen career. In his early scenes, he has all the fire and flash of a guy who is at the top of his game and isn’t shy about letting people know it and later on, during his tailspin into addiction and despair, he finds dramatic depths that he has never allowed himself to demonstrate before. It is a great performance that should supercharge his career in the way that “Terms of Endearment” did for Jack Nicholson and I am sure that I am not the only one out there hoping that he makes something of this second chance instead of retreating to the junk that all but ruined him in the first place.

Even more impressive than Murphy is the performance by Jennifer Hudson, the one-time “American Idol” contestant making her acting debut in the scene-stealing role of tragic diva Effie. It is a role that is not for a timid performer because whoever is playing the part has to basically dominate the proceedings right from the top if we are to believe her for a second. To say that Hudson does that is an understatement–despite the enormous pressure of being a novice in the middle of a gargantuan and star-filled production such as this, she owns the show to such a degree that not only does she hold her own against the more experienced likes of Foxx, Knowles and Danny Glover (who appears briefly as another manager who eventually takes Effie under his wing), they are the ones who feel like they are playing catch-up. The musical numbers are just as impressive and her take on the Act 1 closer “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is such a show-stopper, in the best possible sense of the word, that it deserves comparison with the legendary rendition done by original Effie Jennifer Holiday during the original run of the show. Whether Hudson has the goods to tackle acting as a full-time gig or whether this is just a more-than-ideal pairing of performer and role, her work here is a star turn so mesmerizing that when she appears on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off of her.

The contributions of Murphy and Hudson are considerable but after a while, even their efforts aren’t quite able to overcome the deficiencies found elsewhere in the film. For starters, the storyline is pretty thin even by the standards of the musical, a genre not exactly famous for dramatic depth, and spends an awful lot of time to roll out material that even those who haven’t experienced the show are likely to find awfully familiar. Another problem is that while the film may look like a Jamie Foxx-Beyonce Knowles star vehicle on the surface, their central characters are actually the least interesting element in the film. Foxx doesn’t really have much to do other than be charming in the first half of the story and malevolent in the second and he gets no real chance to display the acting chops that he demonstrated so ably in “Ali,” “Ray” and “Collateral.” As for Knowles, she clearly has all the goods to be a movie star–looks, talent and charisma–but the role of Deena is a thankless one that exists only to be overshadowed by Effie. You keep waiting for the character to develop some kind of personality or snap but Deena seems to have been conceived as the nicest, sweetest and most docile diva in the annals of music history (perhaps as a way of keeping Diana Ross from suing) and none of her songs are as memorable as the ones done by Effie. Perhaps realizing this, the film gives Knowles a new number to perform, the empowerment anthem “Listen,” that is meant to give the character her own version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and while it will probably give Knowles a Best Song Oscar slot, it comes across in the film as a weakly conceived reprise that stops the show in the worst possible way at the worst possible time.

“Dreamgirls” was written and directed by Bill Condon, who presumably snagged the job on the basis of his Oscar-winning screenplay for “Chicago” instead of his work on such fundamentally different works as “Gods and Monsters” and “Kinsey,” and his work here is also kind of a mixed bag. Condon’s screenplay for “Chicago” was widely criticized because of his decision to transform all of the musical numbers into imaginary stage performances in order to avoid the potentially alienating notion of having characters suddenly breaking into song and dance in the middle of a scene. With “Dreamgirls,” he has given us an unapologetic musical that mixes scenes in which songs are delivered in the context of a performance with dramatic moments that suddenly burst into song in an instant. The performance scenes are staged with a lot of energy and excitement–the opening amateur hour sequence perfectly nails the mixture of anticipation, anxiety and flop-sweat of such an event–but the more dramatically-oriented numbers, which kick in after about an hour, come across as kind of dull and clunky by comparison, as if Condon were still hesitant about letting go in this particular direction. Of course, things aren’t helped much by the inescapable fact that the much-vaunted Henry Krieger-Tom Eyen songs just aren’t that spectacular–as ersatz examples of pop, blues, R&B and disco, they are okay but you never buy them for a second as actual hits of the time. Maybe the tunes sounded more innovative back in 1981, when Broadway tunes were still largely locked in the traditions of the past, but they come off now as somewhat less than their reputation might otherwise suggest.

Of course, for those who have been waiting patiently for any film version of the show, “Dreamgirls” may well seem like a dream come true. For the rest of us, it is an uneven work that has some undeniably wonderful aspects (namely Murphy and Hudson) but there is nothing of substance at the center to really pull them together into a meaningful whole. The result is a sumptuous-looking cinematic buffet in which the tasty side dishes can’t quite make up for a undeniably lackluster main course.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15299&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/24/06 18:08:07
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User Comments

10/20/08 mr.mike I am not a fan of musicals. I was entertained. 4 stars
10/14/08 Shaun Wallner Very Boring! 2 stars
9/05/08 Rada Sarbu I only watched it because I'm a fan of Beyonce. Otherwise I wouldn't have seen it. Its good 4 stars
8/18/08 Jeff Wilder An uplifting film with some genuine well-directed anger at the death of soul , 4 stars
7/29/08 the dork knight Not bad.........for what it is. Jamie Foxx is tiresome as usual 3 stars
3/17/08 RF This movie was so overhyped. Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson made this movie worth watc 3 stars
7/04/07 Piz Fairly ho-hum and predictable the entire way, got worse as it went along 3 stars
5/14/07 Nita This movie was good!! Jennifer Hudson has a strong voice...Beyonce needs to sit down! 3 stars
5/13/07 Geoff It was a waste of time. Music was awful. 2 stars
5/08/07 Kerenda I reaaly love this move I cant stop watching it 5 stars
5/05/07 Total Crap I laughed everytime they sang during an argument. This movie is so fake but hudson was ok. 2 stars
5/04/07 Wendy Craig Maybe half an hour worth of story drawn out to 2+ hours. Yawn! 2 stars
4/28/07 David Pollastrini didn't think much of it. 3 stars
2/10/07 Michelle Cozzolino Would rather have watched paint dry; total waste of time 1 stars
2/09/07 Ema yes they picked top actors but the film was poor not a good likeness to motown! 1 stars
2/03/07 andyinindy Miserable. Wanted to walk out but strangely hypnotized by the carnage. Waste of 2 hours. 2 stars
2/03/07 liz cannot believe this thing is nominated for awards. bad bad bad. beyonce only good thing! 1 stars
2/02/07 zev absolute drivel a disgrace to motown 1 stars
1/29/07 sapphire think that eddie murphy is so fine in that movie and jeffer hudson is a good singer 5 stars
1/28/07 malcolm very good but i like more talking in movies, i bet it's amazing on stage 3 stars
1/28/07 brittany i hated this movie...a disgrace to motown and african americans. 1 stars
1/25/07 June Strueber Too shrill; nerve wrackingly unhappy people who one doesn't sympathize with. 3 stars
1/24/07 GinX Brilliant on the stage; loses a bit on the screen. Still worth seeing. 4 stars
1/24/07 chris plain awful. people walking out everywhere. only the simpletons were impressed. 1 stars
1/24/07 mara mara it was soo boooooooringggggggggggg 2 stars
1/24/07 Vee All hype! but if it wasn't for the dull-ass soundtrack I could forgive them it was PRETTY 3 stars
1/23/07 Suzz Ably brings back an era; great performances by Hudson and Murphy 5 stars
1/23/07 andrew pailate Haven't watched a movie with so many people walking out on it! I wish I was one of them! 1 stars
1/20/07 JUDY P. it was way too long. I liked the thrill of the beginning, but thats all 3 stars
1/19/07 fabe Eddie Murphy was the best. Jamie Fox was also good. I am liking him more and more. 4 stars
1/18/07 Paula H. Shallow characters, weak story, soul-less music. Bad adaptation of great stage production. 1 stars
1/18/07 Hollie Loved Eddie, but was disappointed with everything else!! 2 stars
1/18/07 Koitus Eddie Muphy was GREAT; Jimmie Fox was also good. Kind of an "eh" movie... 3 stars
1/16/07 Nora I was disappointed. Eddie Murphy was the best thing in it. 2 stars
1/14/07 Richard Unsympathetic characters. Boring music. Hudson screeches. 2 stars
1/13/07 Tanya This was almost as good as the original play 5 stars
1/12/07 Clayton The movie was subpar, at best, with a flimsy script, awkward directing and flat acting 2 stars
1/10/07 Keisha Tremendously overrated. Entertaining but the storyline was weak. 3 stars
1/08/07 Johnny Shack Hi Folks - I love music, but whn Hudson sang her loud piece, I wanted to jump out of my sea 2 stars
1/07/07 Brian F. Walked out along with another group. Awful songs, dragging plot. BLECH. 1 stars
1/05/07 Firpin The music was not R & B. It was terrible 1 stars
1/04/07 Emar The movie was great. Jennifer was outstanding. You are clueless! 5 stars
1/04/07 Kathy Rivers A bit confussing, trying to find any depth to the cast. 3 stars
12/31/06 Brittney This movie was really good! Jennifer did a great job! 5 stars
12/31/06 Shannon (Erik Childish is Fascist) Loved the Movie but did have story issues. Jennifer Hudson, first time acting...Brilliant! 4 stars
12/31/06 Allen Hackneyed, overrated, boring 2 stars
12/30/06 Angie This movie is all the hype & more! How could anyone not like it? I've seen it 2x; GREAT!!!! 5 stars
12/30/06 tina The over-the-top ballads made me cry, but the story line and acting was sometimes weak 4 stars
12/30/06 mz. nermalz this movie was phenomical. I was worried that it wouldn't live up to the hype, but it did! 5 stars
12/30/06 Charlotte I was disappointed. The story wasn't compelling and the songs were average at best. 2 stars
12/29/06 Y. Nowlin How can anyone take a nap, during one of Jennifer Hudson's powerful performances? 5 stars
12/29/06 julie Was looking foward to a great flick...disappointed..Hudson was the best for sure 2 stars
12/28/06 Sally This is a Broadway musical about the 1960s, and a damn good one 4 stars
12/28/06 martin boring 2 stars
12/28/06 Greg L This movie's both a pastiche of Ross' 70s movies & a catalog of every showbiz morality tale 3 stars
12/28/06 Richard Naujoks This movie knocked me out- the reviewer doesn't like musicals-why is he reviewing it? 4 stars
12/27/06 M.J. Erik, don't be so mean. Those who can, do. Those who can't, criticize. 4 stars
12/27/06 Luisa The singing was good, but it got to the point where "ok enough already!" 3 stars
12/26/06 Carol Carney Why all the hype? Took a nap through it! 3 stars
12/26/06 fenixcarey Okay, so go see it again, take your shades off, turn your EAR PEACE up, then give a review 5 stars
12/26/06 Candice It's FICTION, Erick! See it for what it is, entertainment. 4 stars
12/25/06 Michael When Hudson's "Holiday" performance is called stank, then the wrong person is reviewing 5 stars
12/25/06 T.R. You are too knit picky, this is a musical!! Not a drama! 5 stars
12/25/06 Jeannie Blum I loved this movie. Your reviewer here seems determined to find problems with it. Too bad c 5 stars
12/25/06 Bobbi J. Hudson is an outstanding singer, but they should've let her sing different style songs 4 stars
12/20/06 steven lass Not even close to Jennifer Holliday's performance 3 stars
12/20/06 Lance White I loved it, and so did most of the audience in the theatre! 4 stars
12/15/06 Li Wright Some things I agree with, overall this is a stunning looking and sounding movie 4 stars
12/15/06 Sam Caldwell A Glorious Holiday Movie Worth Seeing 4 stars
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  15-Dec-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 01-May-2007



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Bill Condon

Written by
  Bill Condon

  Jamie Foxx
  Beyonce Knowles
  Eddie Murphy
  Danny Glover
  Anika Noni Rose
  Jennifer Hudson

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