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Dec. 31, 2006

"Dreamgirls" sparkles, shines and fades away

by Johanna Gretschel, Online Managing Editor
"Dreamgirls" was jinxed from the start. Any film generating Oscar buzz for months before its theatrical release is doomed to suffer the curse of unfulfilled expectations. Add that the semi-biographical film centers around the 1960s black music industry and stars Jamie Foxx and comparisons to Foxx's 2004 Oscar-winning film "Ray" are unavoidable. Unfortunately, "Dreamgirls" is nowhere near the same caliber film as the impeccable "Ray."

"Dreamgirls,"adapted from the 1980s Broadway musical of the same name, follows the lives of a 1960s girl group, The Dreamettes. The Dreamettes are loosely based on real-life 60s divas The Supremes, with the Diana Ross character portrayed by the beautiful Deena (Beyonce Knowles). Effie (Jennifer Hudson) is based on Florence Ballard, the founder of The Supremes who was also blessed with the best set of pipes and a heavyset figure. Although she has the strongest voice of the three, Effie's weight problems demote her from the lead-singer-status and eventually forces her fight for her position in the group. The final Dreamette, Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose), is based on Mary Wilson, the third original Supreme, who was romantically involved with members of The Temptations and The Four Tops, pop contemporaries of the 60s.

Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), a budding talent manager, discovers the Dreamettes at an amateur talent competition. Their careers take off when Curtis invites them to sing back-up for Jimmy, a soul superstar (Eddie Murphy). "Dreamgirls" follows girls as they discover the benefits and pitfalls of the black music industry during the turbulent 60s.

The film subtly addresses the racial issues of the 60s, often to humorous effect. Effie jokingly becomes outraged when she discovers that Curtis has recorded Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech as an album, questioning the quality of King's singing voice. However, the social turbulence is also used as a powerful, sobering tool in its display of the unfair treatment of black music artists. One of Jimmy's singles, "Cadillac Car," steadily climbs the charts until a white group covers the song without permission, sending Jimmy's version into the ground and their version up to number-one status.

The film is aesthetically pleasing with its slick music-video style cinematography and big-glamour, big-hair depiction of the Dreamettes. However, the film's showy scenery and set design simply serve to overshadow the unimpressive acting chops of its stars. It seems as though producers spent more time creating the elaborate sets and costumes than fleshing out the script to distract viewers from the film's structural weaknesses. A good set of false eyelashes does not a decent movie make, as the story proves to be flimsier than the Dreamettes' rhinestone-encrusted costumes.

While musicals on Broadway are allowed to rely on songs to carry them, movies require a more solid plot. The film escapes the usual awkward burst-into-song implausibility that plagues many Broadway-to-Hollywood films by using The Dreamettes' concerts and recording sessions as setting for most of the song-and-dance numbers. Transitions are tidy and clever as the girls will start singing a song in the recording studio and with a flash of glitter, finish the song onstage in front of millions of screaming fans.

The songs are pleasant, although they all begin to sound like continuations of the same ballad about halfway through the movie. Hudson, a former American Idol contestant, does Simon Cowell proud by stealing scenes from the superstar Beyonce with her exceptional voice eliciting a standing ovation from some theater-goers. Hudson's acting skills, however, are not up-to-par and her emotionally charged performance tends to border on melodramatic and obnoxious. Effie starts skipping rehearsals and mouthing off, similar to her real-life inspiration, Florence Ballard, and affirming several characters' assertion that she "wants all the privileges without any of the responsibility."

In contrast to the girls' roles, Foxx plays Curtis emotionlessly and unconvincingly. His monotone voice and wooden mannerisms leave plenty to be desired as he sounds like he is reading straight off of a Teleprompter. In a movie full of unfulfilled expectations, Foxx's performance is by far the most disappointing since he is capable of greatness, as proved in his Academy Award-winning performance in "Ray." Murphy's spastic, womanizing Jimmy and Keith Robinson's role as Effie's songwriting brother, C.C., are the only performances likely to invoke any connection with the audience. C.C., in particular, warrants the audience's sympathy as he is forced to betray his sister to keep his job.

To enjoy "Dreamgirls," enter the theater with a cleared mind, free of all Oscar buzz and with no expectations. Viewers must let themselves get distracted by the glitter and sparkle, while avoiding looking for any deeper meaning. "Dreamgirls" is substantial in the literal sense, clocking in at a surprisingly quick 125 minutes. The film moves at a frenetic pace, which while perhaps too fast to effectively develop its characters, is perfect for a mindless viewing.

"Dreamgirls" (125 minutes, area theaters) is rated PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug content.



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  • dfs (View Email) on January 1, 2007 at 5:32 AM
    This movie sucks, it's horrible. They just changed the names. Yay for originality. Sadly it will probably win all the Oscars.
  • rob Lail (View Email) on January 1, 2007 at 11:03 AM
    My only questions to you are - 1) How old
    are you and 2) I'd like to see you do better.
    This is a fantastic film far surpassing Chicago. You need to be one the earth a
    little longer before you start thinking
    you know what you are doing.
  • Angie (View Email) on January 4, 2007 at 7:17 AM
    Wow i never knew the movie was that Inefficient! But i always knew that movies t hat beyonce are in tend to just focuse more on the sets and costume. I think you guys should compare it to her movie with Cuba Gooding Jr called Fighting Temptations. Again there is too much focus on everything else except for the scritp you should check it out.
  • zach on January 17, 2007 at 10:21 PM
    yeah i havent seen it, but i guess i well i mean it did win 4 golden globes (inc. best picture) so it cant be that bad. ive gotta agree with rob down there
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