Directed by: Bill Condon
Premise: A film adaptation of the stage musical. Under the guidance of a savvy producer (Jamie Foxx), a trio of women (Beyoncé Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, and Jennifer Hudson) rise to superstardom in the 1960s and early 70s after they perform back up vocals for soul singer James ‘Thunder’ Early (Eddie Murphy).
What Works: Dreamgirls is a terrific film. The musical sequences have a lot of energy and showmanship to them, capturing the excitement of the stage presentation, but conveying it in cinematic terms. The music entertains, informs the audience about the aesthetic of the entertainers, the progression of their popularity, and the drama between them. Rather than stopping to tell the audience how the characters feel in that moment, the music is used to develop characters and set up themes. The performances in the film are very good, particularly in Eddie Murphy as Early. Murphy brings his usual humor to the role, but he balances it with darker, more somber moments in the latter half of the film. It’s a fun but sad character to watch, one who is simultaneously charismatic and pathetic. Another great performance is Foxx as manager Curtis Taylor Jr. Foxx is given the most room for growth as he goes from an ambitious but well intentioned salesman to a corrupt and scheming man who becomes a destructive force in the other character’s lives. The progression is well done and occurs so subtly that the change is disturbing but credible. It is in the character of Taylor that Dreamgirls crosses into a piece of music criticism. The film is in part a commentary on contemporary music and as the characters get frustrated with the limitations of pop music, they reveal the shallowness and narcissistic elements of the music industry that can destroy artistic integrity in the name of monetary success.
What Doesn’t: The picture has some trouble deciding whether it is a traditional musical or not. While there is plenty of music performed by the actors, traditional musical numbers are few and far between and as a result they are jarring, as they break the reality of the film up to that point.
Bottom Line: Dreamgirls is one of the best films of its kind. It is unique within the genre of Hollywood success stories in that it takes on fame but does not pawn off the destruction of the individual to side issues like drugs. Instead, Dreamgirls critiques the personal and economic interests that suppresses great art.
Episode: #126 (January 14, 2007)