The story of the life and career of the legendary rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles, from his humble beginnings in the South, where he went blind at age seven, to his meteoric rise to stardom during the 1950s and 1960s.
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after breaking parole, agrees to care for a factory worker's daughter. The decision changes their lives for ever.
Detroit, the early 1960s. Curtis Taylor, Jr., a car salesman, breaks into the music business with big dreams. He signs a trio of young women, the Dreamettes, gets them a job backing an R&B performer, James "Thunder" Early, establishes his own record label and starts wheeling and dealing. When Early flames out, Curtis makes the Dreamettes into headliners as the Dreams, but not before demoting their hefty big-voiced lead singer, Effie White, and putting the softer-voiced looker, Deena Jones, in front. Soon after, he fires Effie, sends her into a life of proud poverty, and takes Deena and the Dreams to the top. How long can Curtis stay there, and will Effie ever get her due? Written by
I saw a preview screening of Dreamgirls on Nov. 15. and have to say I was pretty blown away by it. I can always tell when a movie really hits me because the thought immediately runs through my head, "Wow, I can't wait to OWN this on DVD." Needless to say, Dreamgirls is now at the top of my "To Buy" list.
I saw the original Michael Bennett production in 1985, a few years into its Broadway run when Jennifer Holliday was no longer in the Effie role. But even without Holliday I found the show and its score to be among Broadway's best. While I certainly hoped this movie would at least give us a respectable representation of what made the Broadway show so thrilling, I must admit I was afraid to get my expectations too high after the recent string of disappointing stage to screen musical transfers - Phantom of the Opera, Rent and The Producers. Yeah, I had heard the buzz was good for Dreamgirls, but, well, you know how that goes. Sometimes the bigger the buzz the flatter it falls.
And let's face it. Movie musicals are just flat-out tough to pull off. While I consider the number of truly great movies to be pretty small, the list of truly great movie MUSICALS is even smaller. And the ones that manage to do more than just recreate a literal adaptation of the stage play, truly utilizing the medium of film to create something bold and cinematic are almost non existent: Cabaret, Chicago...maybe one or two others...end of story. Plus, I think it's even more difficult to successfully transfer musicals to film today given modern audiences inability to accept characters "breaking into song."
So I hope I'm not adding to the already extensive hype when I report that, for me at least, Dreamgirls delivers big time. The film manages to achieve the near impossible task of remaining faithful to it's source material (in fact, several times it gives direct nods to Bennett's brilliant original staging) while utilizing the medium of film to it's fullest, creating something fresh and exciting in its own right.
Dreamgirls not only transitions seamlessly between spoken dialog and musical numbers, but redefines musical storytelling by using the musical artifice of "breaking into song" carefully and judiciously to punctuate only those moments in the movie when the emotion builds to the point where words can no longer adequately contain it. I can't express strongly enough how impressed I was with the way Bill Condon managed to handle these transitions. Truly masterful. But it's not just the transitions that are handled well. The movie is artfully rendered and exquisitely produced in literally every area with outstanding, heartfelt performances by each and every cast member. And yes, Jennifer Hudson is as good as they say. I can honestly say that there's no way I can imagine this film being done any better.
If there's any weak spot in Dreamgirls, it's the dramatic flaws inherent in the piece itself. The second act of the stage play (after "and I'm telling you I'm not going") was never quite as dramatically intense or focused as the first. And the movie feels pretty much the same way. But, believe me, this is a minor flaw compared to what's RIGHT about Dreamgirls.
Make no mistake. This film is going to be a triumph and earn a place in movie history. Not to mention my DVD library.
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