Dreamgirls

Film Review by Jeffrey Winters

The best part about “Dreamgirls,” is that it is much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Seeing the commercials and marketing, I felt it was going to be a decent Broadway musical adaptation, but nothing special. Was I wrong. The film has sizzling moments, some gorgeous singing, beautiful set design, tight editing, good direction and two very wonderful yet surprising performances.

Interestingly, it did not receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture. Yet its two nominations are especially deserving. Eddie Murphy won for Best Supporting Actor. He plays an R&B singer Jimmy “Thunder” Early. Murphy sings and grabs the microphone as if it’s a straw in a soda can. He twirls it around while swaying and sounding real good. With his moves and fantastic expressions he is completely believable. As the film progresses, his character begins to slide and he looks heavy and over.

His performance made me think about two other comedians who crossed over into serious roles and offer depth of character. Robin Williams and Kevin Pollock both started doing stand up comedy like Eddie Murphy. I think these guys have done so much mimicry and so much humor that the cliché’ of the funny man capturing sadness is really true. This was the best acting in Murphy’s career which was beginning to decline with too many stupid films that failed to make people laugh.

The other nomination for Best Supporting Actress was won by Jennifer Hudson who plays the original Dreamette lead singer Effie. Even though her voice is the strongest, she is replaced because she is a bit heavy and has an attitude. Her manager doesn’t feel she can cross over into white audiences.

Hudson does two things which propel “Dreamgirls” into a really fine film. First and most important, she belts out a few songs like a Diva. Her voice is loud and clear and beautiful. It has an inspiring Gospel quality and theater audiences break out in emotional applause after her performance. As a new actress (she lost on American Idol), she plays a character that calls for a moody, often unhappy person who has to hit bottom and decide to resurface with new found dignity and self respect. She nails the part.

Overall, the film portrays all the characters’ development in a very superficial way because it is a musical, not a drama like “Babel”. Jennifer Hudson takes the emotions given in a shallow character study and converts them (like all great music) into a realm of feeling which often tells the story louder than all the dialogue in a play.

Jamie Foxx plays Curtis Taylor (a take off on Berry Gordy who founded Motown in Detroit in the 60’s). I thought his performance as a shrewd salesman who becomes a major mogul by managing these singers was weak. I was surprised after seeing him in “Ray” how limited his voice sounded here. He also has a confused expression as if he isn’t planted in his character.

Danny Glover has a small part playing the original manager for Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy). Glover has such a soothing smile. It was good to see him take on a small part that shows true goodness and friendship.

“Dreamgirls” brings pleasure to the screen. It isn’t a great film, but a very fine enjoyable combination of acting, song and choreography.