2007 Verve Awards

2006 Verve Awards

Best Arts and Culture Blog 2005 Queer Day Awards

Best Gay Blog Nominee 2004 Weblog Awards

Best Arts and Culture Blog Nominee

Friday, December 08, 2006


ModFab On...Dreamgirls

Starring Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Sharon Leal, Danny Glover, Hinton Battle, Loretta Devine and Jennifer Hudson
Written by Bill Condon and Tom Eyen
Directed by Bill Condon
Rated PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug content

I've just come, giddy and jubilant and a little drunk on gorgeous gowns, from seeing the movie adaptation of Dreamgirls. And though I will admit right upfront that it's not the greatest movie ever made, it has to be said that -- in a year as cinematically arid as 2006 has been -- watching it was like drinking crystal cool water from an overflowing mountain spring. It's been pretty dry of late at the local cineplex, with few films daring to attempt greatness. (And those that do reach for the stars, like The Fountain, falling short in their execution).

But suddenly, in a spotlight as bright as the buzz-heavy media can make it, is Dreamgirls: a well-crafted, viscerally adept, dynamically performed entertainment of the highest order. Its dramatic strength and musical power can certainly rank it among the best films of the genre, and it should be a serious awards contender throughout the season. But here, today, in this moment of giddy appreciation...I am simply thankful for a good evening at the theatre.

Dreamgirls is quintessentially a cautionary tale about the heavy price of fame and the undeniable power of talent. But it is also a celebration of legacy, of African-American musicians in the 20th century and of the power of song to rise above personal and societal turmoil. It is not a triumph of originality -- the story is been-there, done-that, especially to anyone who has followed the early career trajectory of Diana Ross and The Supremes. But it is a triumph nonetheless, a triumph of execution, of a marvelous narrative and iconic characters, of a dazzling score and a winning production design. It may not be original, but it is, completely and utterly, the stuff which dreams are made of. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

The 1982 original Broadway production is now legendary -- the swan song of director Michael Bennett and the start for the careers of Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine and Jennifer Holliday. The 2006 movie version, directed with dextrous vivacity by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), builds on the piece's own sense of history, paying due respect to Bennett's vision. Like the film's most obvious precursor, Chicago (for which Condon also wrote the screenplay), the film takes a famous Broadway property and updates it with contemporary cinematic technique -- elegant production elements, dynamic sound mixing, and significant editing. (Lots of cross-cutting and montages, folks...fewer than Moulin Rouge, but more than, say, Rent.)

Enough with the chatter, though: you want to know how She is. She, of course, being Jennifer Hudson, who steals the show and everything else as Effie White, the headstrong lead singer of the titular singing trio. The answer will sound like cliche, but it's the truth: she is better than I ever thought possible. As she proved on American Idol a number of seasons ago, this woman can sing; but what makes her so astonishing as Effie is her superb acting performance, a tempestuous hurricane of emotion who can hold her own against formidable costars like Foxx, Knowles and Murphy. At the press screening I attended, she commanded applause on four separate occasions, unheard of in my experience. (For the curious, the ovations were for "And I Am Telling You...", "I Am Changing", "One Night Only" and the finale.)

Eddie Murphy is pretty dazzling too, in a role which will subvert your notions of this talented comedian. Jamie Foxx, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover, Hinton Battle, Keith Robinson and perform beautifully, leaving only one glaring weakness. (Remember when I said it's not the greatest movie of all time? This is why.) The fact of the matter is that, despite her singing ability, Beyonce Knowles is simply not a very good actress; the tight veneer of her character, the beautiful usurper Deena, is as flat as the proverbial pancake. There's a patina of mild disdain for emotion in her work, a blandness that is not a part of her work as a recording artist. Here, however, she alternates stale line readings with scenes of labored intensity; she never manages to reach the level of her costars. Sure, she is in fine voice, but let's be honest -- it is not the fullest voice to begin with. Dull acting and merely adequate singing create a vacuum in Deena's scenes that, frankly, shouldn't be there. (Oh, if only Gabrielle Union could sing...)

A shout-out must go to Sharen Davis, whose extraordinary costumes are the most glamorously decadent confections Hollywood has seen since Orry-Kelly. The palette only covers a little over a decade (mid-60's to late 70's), but through Davis' eyes, we gather each passing stage of their lives in finely chosen detail. Amidst a cornucopia of bravura performances, hers may be the most grand.

Dreamgirls is not for everyone; I shudder to think how this movie, with its East Coast sensibilities and show-queen ecstasies, will play in the great American heartland. But if you have ever known or loved a performer, or if you've known that very specific brand of pain that comes from having a dream deferred, then Dreamgirls will be more than a movie, and more than a good night out. It will be like coming home....and taking a refreshing drink of that crystal clear water. Great art can do that to a person.



Post a Comment

<< Home