Dreamgirls Review: A Bright and Energetic Musical Surpassing the Unexpected
by Alex Billington
December 28, 2006
I'm not very fond of many stage-to-screen adaptations - especially musicals - but I just found a big exception to my own rule. Dreamgirls shines just as brightly as its band The Dreams do on stage: it is an energetic, electrifying, and incredible cinematic experience that wraps you up in its glowing warmth and shows you the way to your dreams.
Dreamgirls is the story of three young, optimistic singers: Deena Jones (BeyoncÃ© Knowles), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), and the tremendous Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), loosely modeled after Diana Ross and The Supremes. After the sly manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) lands them a backup singing gig behind the legendary James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy), the girls are whisked on an adventure towards stardom. After touring with Jimmy Early, the backup singers land their first independent show in Miami and start a legendary reign on the pop charts as The Dreams. However with success, money, and power also come lies, deceit, greed, drugs, and depression, and the dream they all were living soon begins to fall apart.
Dreamgirls is technically wonderful and also technically extravagant. Director and screenwriter Bill Condon, who won a screenwriting Oscar for Chicago, wrote and directed Dreamgirls with keen attention to the glorious stage life and eventual downfall of every player. There is not much room for audiences to catch their breath before being launched into another raucous musical number. Much of the music is incredible and the locations, the glitz, the glamour, and the vivid color all add to the raw beauty of R&B. It all too often breaks out into song, often found in a Broadway musical, and there are a few instances where it's just a bit overdone. As incredible as Dreamgirls was, it started to get gruelingly, tragically long. After a while, I just wanted to get back to the glory days of The Dreams without worrying about how big of a diva BeyoncÃ©'s character has become.
This musical is packed with amazing acting, deserving of Oscar consideration especially for Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson in their supporting roles. Its rare to see supporting actors steal so many scenes from the leads, but as Toby Jones did in The Painted Veil so do Murphy and Hudson in Dreamgirls. Murphy gives a particularly invigorating performance, displaying much more versatility than audiences have come to expect from him of late. If you see Dreamgirls, you'll find yourself satisfied at the least that you've observed what are likely the winners of Best Supporting Actor and Actress come the Oscars next February.
Dreamgirls has just the right amount of effort, the right amount of passion, and the right amount of funding to make it an outstanding film, though I wouldn't consider the film on the whole to be among the best of the year. Although filled with great performances particularly from Eddie Murphy and first-time actress Jennifer Hudson, the story feels formulaic. Even with some difficulties and minor flaws, Dreamgirls still is a thrilling two hours of wonderment, excitement, tears, and of course, dreams. This is a musical to see even if you dislike musicals - Dreamgirls is an eye-opener and an energetic experience.