| The Red Right Hand
Originally opening at the Imperial Theatre, on Broadway, in December 1981, Dreamgirls was a big success but despite critical acclaim in the US, it is my opinion that certain elements have been lost in translation. This does not necessarily mean that this is a bad film, simply an example of the dangers of crossing musicals to screen. Director Bill Condon was responsible for writing the screenplay for the Award-Winning 2002 hit, Chicago and directing 2004's Kinsey but this is his first stab at directing a musical. The first mistake he made was realism. Unlike The Producers or Chicago, Dreamgirls doesn't have that 2D-stage look & feel that is now commonplace with musicals and after the roaring success of musical biopics Ray and Walk The Line, audiences are shying away from the glitz of over-the-top showpieces and now looking for sincere and true-to-life tales. This proved clear as members of the audience unaware that it was previously a musical were a little stunned when Jennifer Hudson harmonically belted out, "What about me?" as the other characters talked around her. Not necessarily a flaw in the film but darting back and forth between biopic and musical simply created a slight air of confusion and lack of identity. The songs also created problems. Going with the show-tunes with a R&B feel rendered most of the tunes completely forgettable. On top of this, we had to cope with powerful showstoppers, one after another, rarely letting up for a moderate paced or slow, mellow song.
The acting efforts put forth are praiseworthy but both Hudson's voice and performance completely steal the show. Jamie Foxx is viewable, as is Danny Glover but neither offer anything unique, in terms of vocals or character. Foxx plays a weasel who gets his comeuppance and Glover an old-school manager, who gets the shaft but achieves redemption; the same old tired nonsense. The Dreamgirls, themselves, consist of four members: the last minute 'dream,' Michelle Morris [Sharon Leal], the whiney and ever-irritating Lorrell Robinson [Anika Noni Rose], bossy Effie white [Hudson] and the group 'face,' Deena Jones [Knowles]. Despite the casting, Beyonce really isn't the lead actress, she is both upstaged by Foxx and out-sung by Hudson but towards the end of the film you start to see that after another film or two she will have honed her craft. The other commendable performance comes from Eddie Murphy. I was convinced his career was dead after that Haunted Mansion crap, dooming him to a life of Shrek sequels but he manages to prove himself once again and remind audiences that he has multiple layers of talent... even if he did remind me of The Cat from Red Dwarf.
The plot is a very simple tale of ambition, fame and the general problems that all groups/bands seem to go through. Quarrels erupt between the girls over favouritism, members are switched, altered and changed and lessons learned; aww. There are many stunning moments but they're completely dwarfed by the gargantuan feel of the production - every lavish set and costume parades on and off the screen for a solid 130 minutes - a first act finale that yielded no interval and a sappy finishing piece that split audience between tears and frustrated groans. Many films produce clear divides in audiences; those that love it and those that hate it. I can't see anybody hating this film, nevertheless the divide is still present and worse than detest is general apathy. In the end I didn't particularly care for this film because I was expecting an in-depth look at the lives of a group similar to The Supremes (with divorces, rivalry, back-stabbing, heart-ache, impressive songs and nodding towards the birth of disco) and got everything listed but still felt that a key element of realism was missing. It could have been the upbeat ending, the running time or any amount of niggling; all I know is that it spoilt the overall feel for myself and the audience present at the screening.
It was probably the sappy 'everything worked out for the best/we all learned something' ending.
2nd February 2007
The Scene To Look Out For:
As a variety show of fictitious record label 'Rainbow Records' prime Afro-American talents are put on stage we see a mix of seventies character inspirations, ranging from The Supremes, James Brown and The Jackson 5. It was just mildly amusing as a tale about all three will no doubt be made soon enough - possibly sooner than I thought as Brown died a month ago - with better music, stories, controversy and greater critical and commercial success (in the right hands, of course).
Hudson's character is incredibly pushy and bossy at the start but after her 9 minute screaming marathon (a thick blue vein throbbed down the middle of her throat, it was entertaining to watch... didn't explode, though) she really turns the character around and becomes one of the only likeable people in a cast of success-weary fame seekers.
"Deena, you know why I chose you to sing lead? Because your voice has no personality, no depth; except for what I put in there"
In A Few Words:
"A worthy attempt with pleasing performances but falls short, flagging after 130 gruelling minutes"