Undoubtedly, Dreamgirls is an excellent musical. Between the outrageously talented singers, the glimmering costumes, the spontaneous singing, and the lack of attention to plot, it will delight lovers of musical theater everywhere. A marvelous musical, however, does not a great film make.
While stage musicals concentrate almost entirely on music and dance, with storyline and character development coming secondary, with film one expects an interesting narrative to progress. Chicago, for example, did this well, perhaps because the story was engaging enough to translate to film. The “storyline” in Dreamgirls, on the other hand, doesn’t exert itself further than it needs to in order to present opportunities for the characters to belt out show-stoppers. And almost every musical number is a show-stopper, so
As a showcase for fabulous musical talent, many people will be more than satisfied with Dreamgirls, which is now playing in select cities and opens nationwide Dec. 25. Beyonce delivers exactly the top-notch routine we’ve come to expect from Beyonce, Jamie Foxx has a lovely voice, and Eddie Murphy has both the musical ability and the screen charm to win over any crowd. Of course, the one everyone is talking about is the “new Aretha Franklin,” Jennifer Hudson, who owns the spotlight with her powerful pipes and emotional delivery. And if you find yourself among a particularly lively crowd, as I was, watching the film will turn into an interactive experience, with wild applause and whooping after particularly sassy comebacks (Hudson’s “I don’t do backup”). Even savvy, modern-day audiences are confused into thinking they’re at a live performance.
Yet, the stories come in fits and starts but never continue to completion, giving the film an empty feel. Dreamgirls tells the story of the girl trio originally called The Dreamettes: sweet-tempered Lorell (Anika Noni Rose), beautiful Deena (Beyonce), and brazen Effie. As the girls rise to fame with manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) and singer James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy), all sorts of drama ensues: love affairs, betrayal, prejudice, egoism, jealousy, anger, pride, and a surprise pregnancy. There are random, unfinished references to racism in the music industry, but the film concludes its series of amazing musical performances with … a final amazing musical performance, and little else.
As for the acting, Beyonce is surprisingly good as Deena, transitioning effectively from an eager girl to a tired kept woman. Still, she has a way to go before she can truly earn major kudos for acting. Jennifer Hudson, on the other hand, is in control at all times, even when her character is not. The best performance, however, can only be credited to Eddie Murphy. With the outline of a character he was given to play, he forms a complete human being. Every choice he makes for the character of Jimmy Early – in all his wildness, humor, and weakness – is presented with serious intention. In a production almost entirely dependent upon stunning vocals and cool costumes, Murphy’s performance stands out as the only aspect I continued to think about days after seeing the movie.
Overall, the film is highly entertaining if you are or have ever been a fan of musical theater, with all its hokiness and argument scenes best expressed through song. Once you've agreed to tolerate these things, you're in for a fun show.