To say that Dreamgirls is highly anticipated would be an understatement. Buzz has been building since word got out over a year ago that a big screen adaptation of the Broadway hit was on its way. Now there are Golden Globe nominations and Oscar buzz too. Dreamgirls has taken on a life of its own. Originally a Broadway musical, it’s loosely based on the rise and ultimate dissolution of The Supremes. The musical made quite a splash when it debuted in 1981, and the movie version is sure to please audiences even more.
Dreamgirls stars Beyonce Knowles (Goldmember), Jennifer Hudson (TV’s American Idol), and Anika Noni Rose, an actress best known for her work on Broadway. The three ladies portray Deena, Effie, and Lorrell, respectively. They comprise The Dreamettes, a girl group from Detroit aspiring for fame and stardom. When we first meet the ladies they are entering a talent contest, which they end up losing. It is here they meet their future manager, Curtis Taylor, played by Jamie Foxx (Miami Vice). He proposes that they tour as backup singers for James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy), a charismatic ladies’ man and soul singer. And so the journey begins, and it’s one filled with highs and lows as the girls navigate the pitfalls and triumphs of stardom. A budding relationship between Curtis and Effie is threatened by his growing attraction to Deena, and she eventually supplants Effie as lead singer, despite having a weaker voice. Rising tensions come to a head and the group dynamics change drastically. These principal plot developments reveal the movie’s core themes of following your dreams, remaining true to oneself, and perhaps most significant: forgiveness.
Okay, enough with all of that. Let’s get to the nitty gritty. The movie was wonderful. Period. Anyone who’s seen a live performance of the musical will tell you that the movie was about as on point as it could possibly be. It followed the script almost exactly, with the exception of a few artistic liberties that only enhanced the movie. The singing and acting were excellent. There were big shoes to be filled, and all of the players seemed to have welcomed the challenge. There were no weak links in the chain, but let me address the two strongest, Ms. Knowles and Ms. Hudson. For those who think the latter “stole the show,” this is only partly true. When Jennifer Hudson is on screen, it’s almost as if the other actors fade into the background. She dwarfs them with her presence, and with her voice – whether she is belting from her soul or giving Curtis a tongue lashing. She eats up the screen. HOWEVER, to say that she stole the show is to do Beyonce a disservice. If you are familiar with the musical and the original script, you know that the role of Effie is one that calls for more character development and depth. Deena’s role is more linear. Deena changes and evolves, but not like Effie. This is not Beyonce’s fault, this is simply the way the characters were created, and so it is a tad ignorant to assert that Jennifer Hudson outshone Beyonce, as some have suggested. She did a better job, but that is because she was called to do more. Her role required more, and she delivered. Having said that, Beyonce’s acting has vastly improved. Particularly, her non-verbal acting has become quite good. I always look for that, and she gave Deena all that the role demanded. I’m not so sure she deserves a Golden Globe nomination though. That’s a bit of a stretch.
Dreamgirls is a must-see for those who don’t mind the idea of movie adaptations of musicals. I attended an advanced showing with a group of friends, and the one person who disliked the movie was a friend who just detests the entire concept of the musical as movie. He also needed more character development, which is a fair complaint, but not if you’re familiar with the musical, which kinda throws you right in the mix with little exposition. If you didn’t like Chicago, Idlewild, Rent, Moulin Rouge…avoid Dreamgirls because you won’t appreciate it. Everyone else, prepare to be wowed by some powerhouse performances, especially that of Jennifer Hudson. Homegirl is on her way and I predict a #1 opening for Dreamgirls, if it can squeak by The Good Shepherd. Hell, go see it just because Little Ms. Perfect (Beyonce) drops the F-bomb and smokes a cigarette! I wonder what Mama and Papa Knowles thought about that. I knew there was a bad girl underneath that southern belle façade. All jokes aside, Dreamgirls is big, an instant classic like Cooley High, or Sparkle, or The Wiz or some shit. Don’t be that one person who’s outta the loop.