Voice on the Side

“Dreamgirls”, allegedly based on the rise of the Supremes and the Motown Records, is about a singing female group originally named the Dreamettes. The musical trio consists of big-voice-big-personality Effie (Jennifer Hudson), the pretty and modest Deena (Beyonce Knowles), and the third-one or the overlooked Lorelle (Anika Noni Rose). Their music career crucially begins when an ambitious car salesman (Jamie Foxx) hooks them up to be the back-up singers of R&B singer Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy). From here onward, we see the group attempt to sing their way to the top of the charts.

“Dreamgirls” differs from most musicals in the sense that it’s not presented as some amusing entertainment, unless you’re the kind who’s amused by backstage drama. What’s intriguing here is its unflattering look on the music business, where business takes priority over music. I guess it’s not so hard to be sold on this premise considering some popular artists of today. Even if I loathe the show, I respect “American Idol” for pushing underdogs into the forefront, usually championing talent over pop star appearance. And I guess we have “American Idol” to thank too for introducing us to Jennifer Hudson, who steals the movie single-handedly.

Hudson is already a lock to win an award on Oscar night. Whether she can tackle any other role is questionable, but her embodiment of Effie is one of the best performances of the year. She’s actually not that likable in the movie. She’s grating at first because Effie has a big diva ego. But when her luck runs out and she sings her big cry of a number, she astounds and grips us in a powerful way. What ruined the song for me is Bill Condon’s attempt to film the scene. He keeps showing and cutting to different camera angles and it almost distracts us away from the performance.

In fact, I didn’t like the editing on this movie. Sometimes there’s too much focus on the visual look rather than the music. The whole time I kept thinking how “Dreamgirls” would even be better on a Broadway show, where the performances and the songs are brought more into forefront. What’s not that interesting is the movie’s focus on the other subplots. I didn’t really care for most of the characters; even the actors are sometimes blah. At least, Eddie Murphy seems inspired. Beyonce Knowles seems too restrained for me, as if she’s trying hard not to act like a diva. I find it hard to believe that her character would stay meek after all that fortune and fame. Overall, the musical only seems intriguing at best and powerful in few occasions. “Dreamgirls” only gathers momentum when Hudson is on screen. I wish she was more on the forefront and the others were background noise.

Grade: B+

Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, and Sharon Leal
Based on the musical book by
Tom Eyen
Screenplay by
Bill Condon
Directed by
Bill Condon
Rated PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug content