© 2006 Ray Wong
Based on the hit Tony-winning musical, Dreamgirls chronicles the history of a Motown trio that is based on Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Deena Jones (Knowles), Lorrell Robinson (Rose) and Effie White (Hudson) are soul sisters of a singing trio, the Dreamettes, looking for a break. They are discovered by Curtis Taylor Jr. (Foxx), an auto dealer who wants to break into the music business as well. As the Dreamettes' manager, Curtis quickly books them as James "Thunder" Early's (Murphy) backup singers. Early also hires Effie's brother, C.C. (Robinson) as a songwriter.
Romantically involved with Curtis, Effie thinks she's better than being a backup. She has the best voice and dreams of becoming a star. Then the chance comes: Curtis books their own act, now as the Dreams, at the Tropicana. However, Curtis decides to make beautiful Deena the lead instead of plain and overweight Effie, even though Deena doesn't have the "voice." Feeling betrayed, Effie begins to display passive-aggressive resentment by showing up late and walking out of rehearsals. Eventually, Curtis replaces Effie with Michelle Morris (Leal), and Effie severs all ties with them, including her brother.
Years later, the Dreams has become a sensation and Deena is a superstar, while Effie is a poor single mother going nowhere with her life. Curtis becomes more and more controlling, much to the group's dismay. Despite her fame and fortune, Deena, now married to Curtis, is particularly unhappy. C.C. seeks out Effie and tries to patch things up with her. Meanwhile, Deena realizes that the Dreams may have finally come to an end.
As the charming but aggressive businessman, Jamie Foxx (Miami Vice) does a great job showing his ruthless side, balanced by some genuine tenderness. He shows some fine singing chops as well. Eddie Murphy (Shrek) is wonderful as a James Brown-esque idol who later becomes washed up and dejected.
Beyoncé Knowles (The Pink Panther) is fine as the Diana Ross-esque diva, but her character requires her (and her voice) to be reserved, thus making her performance somewhat one-note and tame. On the contrary, American Idol alumnus Jennifer Hudson makes her impressive film debut as fiery Effie. Her voice is incredible and she shows great acting range. It's hard to believe this is her first acting job.
Danny Glover (Bamako) is seasoned as James Early's former manager. Anika Noni Rose (Surviving Christmas) is sweet as Lorrell, and Keith Robinson (Fat Albert) is earnest as C.C.
Writer-director Bill Condon (Kinsey) does a remarkable job adapting Tom Eyen's Broadway musical to the big screen. The film's first and second acts feel strong and exciting and energetic. The plot follows the different characters in a streamlined plot that is easy to follow and fascinating to watch. The musical staging is marvelous and seamless. The characters are well-drawn, with clear motivation and conflicts. The character arc of Effie, in particular, is wonderfully developed and acted.
The final act, however, loses steam in that it drags the plot into a sappy melodrama. There's a gap in the timeline between the second and the last act, thus a disconnect between the audiences and the characters. Also, the characters start to sing their dialogue in this act, which feels odd and inconsistent with the rest of the film. The plot feels contrived, and the ending is rather anti-climatic, especially after the electrifying first half of the film.
The production is scrumptious and the costumes delectable. The musical numbers are fantastic -- the actors all do a great job. Eddie Murphy shines, and Jennifer Hudson proves that she is indeed a diva in the making. The period details (60s and 70s) are spot on. Although not as good as Chicago or Moulin Rouge, with its fine acting and soulful production, Dreamgirls is an entertaining and crowd-pleasing film that should keep the dreams of movie musicals alive, at least for a while.
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Beyoncé Knowles, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Sharon Leal, Hinton Battle
Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Bill Condon, Tom Eyen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug content
Running Time: 131 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.6 out of 10