It’s not all about the Beyoncé.
I love musicals. Some times there is too much feeling and passion to express in the confines of words that a powerhouse vocalist and backing band is needed. You are transported to a world full of sparkle, lights, passion, and tight choreography. Emotion, expelled from the heart and from the gut in the form of verse, hits you square between the eyes and leaves you reeling in the spell it has put you under. This is why I love Musicals, and this is why I was so upset Dreamgirls fell so flat.
By now you know the story: Set in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, “Dreamgirls” follows the rise of 3 women—Effie (Jennifer Hudson), Deena (Beyoncé Knowles) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose)—who have formed a promising girl group called The Dreamettes. They are discovered by an ambitious manager named Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx), who offers them the opportunity of a lifetime: to become the back-up singers for headliner James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy). Curtis gradually takes control of the girls’ look and sound, eventually giving them their own shot in the spotlight as The Dreams. That spotlight, however, begins to narrow in on Deena, finally pushing the less attractive Effie out altogether. Though the Dreams become a crossover phenomenon, they soon realize that the cost of fame and fortune may be higher than they ever imagined.
First the bad:
The movie has no real energy in itself. It looked perfect but felt lazy and unenthusiastic, almost like watching the first dress rehearsal of many. It seemed to rely only on its actors to bring it to life and this is where it succeeds and also ultimately fails.
Jamie Foxx is dull. He is supposed to be the films villain, but comes across bland, uninteresting and static. Oscar winner…really? What makes a villian is charisma (Lawrence Fishburn - What's Love Got to do With It), and unfortunately Foxx comes across as a cardboard cut out of himself.
Then there is Beyoncé walking through the film like she has taken far too many Quaaludes. The make up and hair department did an amazing job of channelling Diana Ross. It is a shame then that Ms. Knowles couldn’t bother to do more than strike a series of Ross inspired poses. Deena is supposed to be an ambitious superstar. There was no ambition, or star, in the performance.
Tony award winning Anika Noni Rose was criminally under used. How I wish Condon had cast her as Deena instead, as she not only has a fantastic voice, but the acting chops to convey the naïve hunger of Deena. Such a shame she was given the small role of Lorrell instead.
Eddie Murphy was sensational as James Early; he injected the movie with a much-needed energy with his natural charm. He used this opportunity to remind everyone why he became a star in the first place and will likely walk away with an Oscar nomination.
Lastly there is Jennifer Hudson. This is her movie. She proved what was hinted at during her time on American Idol, that she is a bloody great performer, and now she is rightly considered Oscar worthy. Her Effie is full of sass and sexual allure, and when she is off screen the life seems to drain away from the movie. Forget her powerhouse vocal, where Hudson truly shines is in the moments when Effie shows glimpses of heart breaking vulnerability (“Am I ugly to you Curtis?”) before hiding it away behind her anger and pride. Sure Effie is self destructive, but she comes across as a real person, especially noticeable because the movie around her is mainly plastic.
Jennifer Hudson A, Movie C
Florence Ballard was the inspiration for Effie White. The original lead singer of the Supremes who was pushed aside for the more attractive Diana Ross. Florence had unsuccessful attempts at a solo career before dying in poverty at the age of 32. Jennifer Holliday was the original Effie on Broadway. After winning the Tony for best actress, in what is still widely regarded as the greatest Broadway performance ever, Holliday never found the same success again.
I hope the same cannot be said for Jennifer Hudson’s career. Take your time, and continue to push yourself and your acting ability. And most importantly, retain your humble and gracious demeanour.