Dreamgirls: 2 Stars
If I had to choose one word to describe Dreamgirls it would be loud. Writer/director Bill Condon‘s adaption of the Broadway musical certainly is slick and professional. It has look and style. It does a fair job of recreating the look and sound of 60’s and 70’s Pop and Disco, and to a lesser extent R&B. More than anything else though, it’s just plain loud. I guess that’s what you get when you cast a comedian, a pop star, and a reality-TV singer to be the stars of your film rather than actors. At least it’s better than Idol’s Kelly Clarkson‘s first feature role in a film – From Justin to Kelly, but so is a root canal by a dentist with Parkinson’s; that’s not exactly a great curve to be graded on.
The film’s story is pretty basic, and a good thing too since there’s almost no time for dialogue, much less plot or character development, sandwiched between the film’s many musical numbers. There are three types of musicals. The first uses the music to supplement the story, the second uses the music to tell the story, and the last uses music to hide the fact that there really isn’t much of a story to begin with. Dreamgirls is the later.
The basic storyline of the film focuses on three women who are part of an R&B trio – Deena (Beyonce Knowles), Effie (Jennifer Hudson), and Lorrell (Nika Noni Rose). When a womanizing performer (Eddie Murphy) has his back-up singers all quit one night the girls get their big break. The film follows these three women as the group is reshuffled and changed over time.
|Not exactly a dream, more like a nightmare|
There are several supporting performances worth mentioning including Jamie Foxx as the group’s manager, Keith Robinson as the songwriter for the group, and Danny Glover as Early’s manager. Eddie Murphy might be getting the buzz, but all three of these performances are more layered and interesting.
Murphy himself is doing Eddie Murphy. The part does fit him well, but in many scenes he will remind you of how Robin Williams gobbles up a role leaving only Robin Williams and not a character.
Now to the Dreamgirls themselves. Rose’s character is little more than comic relief, though does have some nice moments with Murphy late in the film. Knowles works well in the role of the beautiful but naive singer who is given a break on her looks rather than her voice. I like most of her musical performances in the film and her acting has improved since Goldmember.
That leaves Jennifer Hudson. Now I am not a fan of American Idol (I consider all reality-tv to be a plague of biblical proportions), but that seems to be why she was chosen for the role. She certainly has a good pair of lungs as she belts out number after number, but she also has a tendency, which grows over the course of the film, to scream the lyrics rather than sing them.
Her performance is a good illustration of the problem with the film overall. Louder isn’t always better, in fact it hardly ever is. In the role of the best singer of the group she comes off unable to control her voice – that’s a problem. Casting Knowles as the less talented singer isn’t good for the film either, especially when both sing the same song and Knowles’ version comes off better (but isn’t supposed to in the plot – oops!).
The music itself is okay, though not great. It feels more like music trying to be from that era than actual music from that era. The pop and disco tunes work well enough, and there are two lighter songs which I enjoyed – “Patience” and “Listen,” but the R&B tunes didn’t feel like the break-out hits the plot demands them to be.
I know there will be people who will like this film more than me. All power to you, if Hudson’s shouting doesn’t give you a migraine, if Murphy’s antics don’t remind you of one of his old SNL skits of James Brown, and if you find the music more to your liking. For me though, it’s a forgettable little musical that had much to show, little to say, and too much, way too much, to shout.