Dreamgirls. Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, and Jennifer Hudson star in a film written by Bill Condon and Tom Eyen and directed by Condon.
Reviewed by Max Burke
The Hollywood movie musical was just a few years ago an endangered species. But now, thanks more to Baz Luhrmann’s exemplary Moulin Rouge! than to the over-hyped Chicago of a few years back, the movie musical is a genre on the rise. Enter Dreamgirls, this season’s crossover hit-in-the-making. Brought to the screen by supremely confident director Bill Condon, the relentlessly over-the-top and genuinely entertaining film can’t rise to the challenge of becoming more than the sum of its parts.
However, those individual parts are more than enough to satisfy even the most cynical holiday movie-goer. Beyoncé Knowles as Deena Jones, a fictional character loosely based on Diana Ross, and Jamie Foxx as music manager Curtis Taylor ground the cast with two excellent performances. Eddie Murphy pours himself into the role of Jimmy Early, a soul singer modeled most closely on James Brown, but whose character also contains nods to Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, and Stevie Wonder, among other R&B luminaries. His every appearance in the film is a delight, and the performance is worthy of any and all accolades it receives.
Jennifer Hudson’s star-making turn as Effie White also serves to raise the film above its commercial, crowd-pleasing pedigree. Effie is the most talented of the three Dreams, but is jilted out of the spotlight in favor of the more generically talented and overtly attractive Deena (Beyoncé). All of the hype and hyperbole surrounding Hudson’s performances is warranted and both her acting chops and stunning vocal performances serve to make the film better than, perhaps, it ought to be.
In the end, Dreamgirls navigates the fine line between base entertainment and genuine social commentary and character development. The end result is a film that is incredibly successful as a spectacle, but doesn’t succeed at much else. However, thanks to excellent technical merits (the cinematography and editing of the big dance number is impeccable) and phenomenal performances, Dreamgirls is never less than truly compelling entertainment, and there is nothing shameful about that.