Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (2-DISC): 12 Never-Before-Seen Extended Musical Numbers; Beyonce Music Video – Listen; Building The Dream – Feature-Length Making Of Documentary; Original Auditions And Screen Tests; Previsualization Sequences; Image Gallery; Dream Logic – Featurette; Dressing The Dreams – Featurette.
BILL Condon’s lavish adaptation of Michael Bennett’s groundbreaking ’80s Broadway musical hit is a strange beast in that it never comes close to impressing as mightily as its hype suggests.
A major Golden Globe winner, Dreamgirls surprised many by being omitted from four of the major Academy Awards categories (best actor, actress, film and director) even though it probably doesn’t deserve such accolades in the first place.
The main problem is that, like many stage-to-screen adaptations, it struggles to make the leap. What worked wonders on Broadway, strikes a duff note at the multiplex.
The sheer number of songs, for instance, will disappoint as many viewers as it impresses, while the blurred line between truth and fiction also misleads.
Dreamgirls is loosely inspired by the rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes under the tutelage of Motown supremo Berry Gordy. It follows the fortunes of teen girl group The Dreamettes (Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose) as they are plucked from obscurity in 1960s Detroit by Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) and moulded into superstars.
But success comes at a high personal cost as they find themselves manipulated by Taylor’s unscrupulous manager and at odds with each other – resulting in an inevitable divide and battle for survival.
In spite of my earlier criticisms, Dreamgirls still has plenty to impress, especially during its early sequences.
The musical numbers are delivered with gusto and Condon manages to strike a nice balance between chronicling the rise of The Dreamettes and their inclusion into the mainstream music scene with the advance of the Civil Rights movement.
It also boasts some terrific support from Eddie Murphy as raunchy, womanising R’n‘B singer Jimmy “Thunder” Early, who helps pave the way for The Dreamettes’ early success.
But once the film begins to chart more dramatic territory it starts to lose its way. Key scenes are sung rather than spoken, a ploy which catches you off-guard, while key political events are hinted at rather than explained.
The line between reality and fiction also begins to blur – on the one hand, The Dreamettes ‘meet’ The Beatles in a newsreel montage, yet on the other a child band appears briefly that’s obviously the Jackson 5 in all but name and song title.
Performance-wise, the film is equally patchy. Murphy and Foxx are terrific but there’s something that feels deceptive about Hudson and Knowles.
Condon, who also wrote the screenplay for Chicago, knows how to play to their strengths and allows his leading ladies to sing most of their key moments – a ploy that masks any of their acting shortcomings (Knowles especially).
Hence, former American Idol contestant Hudson gets her big moment during the showstopper And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, while Beyonce gets Listen. Both are delivered confidently but audiences will either be won over or lost in the process.
Murphy, meanwhile, is allowed to drift away from the scene for too long and the film suffers from his absence. His fall from grace into emotional despair is expertly portrayed (and highlights some untapped talent) but feels deprived of the spotlight it deserves (and, subsequently, the emotional impact).
Sidelined, too, are Danny Glover’s old-school manager and Anika Noni Rose as the third and arguably most talented Dreamette. Neither get the time they deserve once the songs start to dominate.
Condon’s screenplay does an expert job of exposing the dubious morality that goes into creating a successful career but it comes at the expense of offering any character that’s really worth rooting for, thereby making it hard to care.
Come the drawn-out conclusion, viewers may feel as drained and manipulated as the protagonists themselves.
The overall result is a film that flatters to deceive as consistently as Foxx’s manager. Fans of the Broadway original will certainly applaud Condon’s vision but others will wonder what the fuss is all about.
Dreamgirls, for all of its flash and extravagance, consistently struggles to hit the right notes.
Running time: 2hrs 10mins