Dir: Bill Condon. US. 2006.130mins.
As movie versions of hit Broadway musicals go, BillCondon's Dreamgirlsis more Chicago than Rent. Likely to set the box officealight over Christmas domestically and in the New Year around the world, it isalso bound to figure highly in Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, if notend-of-year critics awards. It's an exhilarating Hollywood entertainment, alavish old-style showcase of talent and spectacle which on the whole avoids thepitfalls of transferring plays to screen.
Paramount and DreamWorks,which co-financed the film before the former bought the latter, have crafted abeguiling marketing campaign and early screenings response has been rapturous.Domestic box office will be boosted by the African American moviegoingaudience, which will flock to see one of its own stories as acted by huge blacknames like Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and BeyonceKnowles.
Meanwhile white audiencesaround the world will respond as enthusiastically to the music, the stars, theproduction values and the melodrama. Chicagogrossed $171m domestically and $136m in international territories; Dreamgirls coulddo even bigger numbers in both spheres, especially overseas where R&B musichas more universal appeal than the lyric-bound Kander/Ebbsongs from Chicago.
As based on the 1982 smashwritten by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger and directed by the late Michael Bennett,Dreamgirlsis famously based on the rise of Motown, its iconicfounder Berry Gordy and its first major success storyThe Supremes. The story follows the classic rags-to-riches narrative structurewhich has been the basis of music biopics from Funny Girl to Lady Sings The Blues, What's Love Got To Do With It' to Ray.
Fortunately, Dreamgirls is aloose adaptation of the Supremes story and doesn't need to stick closely toreal-life events. Instead it is allowed to follow its own engaginglymelodramatic story about the ejection from the group of fat girl Effie White,played by knockout newcomer Jennifer Hudson, and her path of righteous revengeagainst the Gordy character, played by Foxx.
The film starts in the 1960sin Detroit at a talent contest at the legendary Detroit Theatre. Three girls intheir late teens arrive late for their slot. They are The Dreamettes:lead singer Effie White (Hudson), a big, brassy broad with attitude and astunning voice; and beautiful back-up singers DeenaJones (Knowles) and Lorell Robinson (Rose). Althoughthey are told they cannot go on stage, a wannabe music impresario called CurtisTaylor Jr (Foxx), who is hanging around backstage,persuades the house manager to change his mind.
The Dreamettesdon't win the contest, but Taylor, a car salesman with big dreams of forminghis own record label, persuades local star James "Thunder" Early (Murphy) andhis reluctant manager Marty (Glover) into hiring the girls as back-up singers,along with Effie's brother CC (Robinson) to write songs.
Later Curtis relaunches The Dreamettes as TheDreams and they are at the forefront of his new label. But he knows that theirfuture success in the white mainstream will lie not with the raw soulful talentof Effie, with whom he has been sleeping, but with the beautiful looks andinoffensive vocal stylings of Deena.
Once thrown out of thegroup, Effie returns to poverty in Detroit carrying Curtis's child, a pregnancyshe neglects to mention to him. Abandoned by her friends, her lover and herbrother, she struggles to keep her head above water.
As the years go by, fame andfortune corrupt The Dreams. Deena marries Curtis, buthis corrupt business practices, controlling ways and ruthless treatment of thenow-fading Early cause rifts and unrest. When Curtissteals Effie's first solo song and restyles it as a disco hit for The Dreams, Deena, CC and Effie team up to teach him a lesson.
The score of Dreamgirls is notas memorable as Chicago or Rent. Several of the numbers areforgettable and don't advance the story. As a result, there are longueurs in the middle section of the film, althoughCondon and his editor Virgina Katz do their best tokeep the screen alive with montage after montage, and lively coverage of the stagebound performances.
Some standout new songswritten by Kreieger have been added - notably anupbeat love song sung by Hudson called LoveYou I Do and a ballsy ballad called Listensung by Knowles. The big number - And IAm Telling You I'm Not Going - is still the centrepiece of the whole storyand Hudson gives it her showstopping all.
As befits the role of Effie,Hudson is outstanding, and should easily net a supporting actress Oscarnomination. A former finalist on AmericanIdol, she brings ferocious guts and on-the-sleeve vulnerability to herperformance in both her singing and dialogue sections.
Knowles, whose radiantbeauty is as dazzling as her numerous hairdos and outfit changes, revealsheretofore unseen range as a dramatic actor, as does Murphy in the unshowy but tasty part of fading star. Foxx is as solid asever as the less than likeable Curtis.
As fine as the performers,the film is equally memorable for the superb production and costume design,make-up and hair, choreography by Fatima Robinson and theatrical lighting. Bythe time it ends with an emotional Dreams reunion on the stage of DetroitTheatre where they began, the film has spanned two decades of American life andstyle with a razzle-dazzle created by some of Hollywood's finest below-the-linetalent.
Laurence Mark Productions
Bill Condon, based on the book and lyrics byTom Eyen
Harvey Mason Jr
Anika Noni Rose