Monday, February 5, 2007

Dreamgirls (2006) Bill Condon

Bathed in the etheral blue light that suffuses this film, three coiffured, shimmering superstars step out onto the stage. Hips swaying in hypnotic synchronicity, they begin to harmonise. There is a rustle in the crowd, whispers about the show that’s just beginning. The final show in a glittering career, a career filled with more highs and lows than the Mighty Mouse Rollercoaster at Funderland. This is the culmination of a lifetime’s work, blood, sweat and tears.

Moments later, the crowd have been whipped up into an ecstatic frenzy, whooping and cheering, stamping their feet in joyful celebration. Tearful, the lead singer on the stage grabs the hands of her fellow bandmembers. “I promised you I wouldn’t cry,” she smiles ruefully. “I’m just so happy.”

This is the finale of Dreamgirls. I’m sure I’m not going to give away any spoilers by mentioning that there is a monster finale, and a big, showstopping one at that, filled with redemption, friendship, hope and and some whopping great tunes. Even a quick glance at the posters for this Oscar-nominated film could tell you that much. This lavish, colourful whirlwind through Motown and Disco starring Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson has been nominated for 8 Acadamy Awards. It’s easy to understand why, director Bill Condon has proved extremely capable job of transferring the Broadway hit onto the big screen and Hudson, in particular, shines in her first acting role.

Dreamgirls starts off well, centering around a talent contest in Detroit, Michigan. The year is 1962 and Motown Music is quickly gathering steam. We are given a glimpse of some of the acts, a chubby-faced blues guitarist, a finger-clicking soul group, each song sending a shiver up my spine that bodes well for the rest of the film. The Dreamettes, a three-piece girl group with store-bought wigs and cheap dresses, put on an admirable performance but are ultimately disapointed when the judges announce the winners. Deena (Beyonce Knowles), Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) and their lead singer Effie (Jennifer Hudson) console each other half-heartedly and seem ready to give up their aspirations of superstardom altogther when a suave, suited Jamie Foxx intervenes. Foxx’s Curtis Taylor Jr. is a car-salesman with ambitions and an interesting proposal; would the Dreamettes like to sing backing for Jimmy “Thunder” Early, a rising RnB star who has already gained notoriety for his crazy stage antics? The three girls, after some minor coaxing, agree to join Early and thus begin their true showbiz career.

Jimmy “Thunder” Early is Eddie Murphy’s only decent role in years, to my recall. A far cry from his usual fat-suit films, Murphy gives a true performance; singing, dancing and sweating his way through the role. His character is a manic drug-addict, a sleazeball charmer who cheats on his wife and the catalyst for the eventual fractures in the Dreamette’s close-knit friendship. While the young, naïve Lorrell tries to resist Thunder’s advances, the relationship between Deena and Effie begins to strain as management decides to switch their roles in the band. While pretty, thin-voiced Deena is placed at the front, the larger, more talented Effie is shunted to the back, much to her disapointment. This betrayal results in Effie leaving the band, right before the Dreams (as they are rechristened) rise to the very top.

Dreamgirls has it’s faults. For one, it seems to last for ever and I’m sure a good twenty minutes could have been cropped off without the story being too affected. A general slimming down wouldn’t have gone amiss, even though for the most part the songs are fantastic, a few less would have greatly improved the film. A cringe-worthy musical number about “being a family” was almost embarrassing and let down the tension, just when it began to built. It also seems to slow down a little in the 3rd Act, a fact which slightly irked me as I was impatient to get to the grand-finale. Some of the characters are one-dimensional and the emotional impact is lessened by the length of it.

Having said this, Dreamgirls is still a good film. The costumes are definitely an integral part of musicals and this doesn’t disapoint, with the girls appearing in new, fabulous dresses every few minutes. The shift from the 60s to the 70s is well defined in the clothes and hairstyles of the main characters, with montages highlighting the cultural change as well. Cinematography is also a highlight, with the aforementioned blue light drenching over the stage, creating a picture that is extremely beautiful to watch. The actors are all cast well, with Hudson shining in her debut role and masterfully dominating every scene she’s in.

While it’s many faults ultimately let it down, there’s no denying that Dreamgirls is an emotional tour de force, glittering and gaudy, an invasion of the senses that pulls out every stop to entertain. And when all’s said, when the critics have sharpened their claws, there’s nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy it.


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