Firstly, it would be unfair to review a film like DREAMGIRLS without acknowledging some of it's many flaws. After a year of hype, DREAMGIRLS proves a slight disappointment in terms of emotional gravitas & depth. When a film is hyped for an entire year as the front-runner for the Academy Award, film-goers have every right to go into the film expecting fully-developed characters, rich emotion, & detailed storytelling. However, film-goers be warned... you aren't bound to get what you expect. DREAMGIRLS is rather shallow in terms of character development & genuine plot. However, if you go in expecting the film to be a stunning spectacle of entertainment & fun, you will not be disappointed.
Whatever DREAMGIRLS may lack in terms of complexity, it makes up for with sheer energy & relentless commitment to entertain its audience. The admittedly thin story revolves around the discovery & rising stardom of a trio of young women from Detroit; Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) & Effie White (Jennifer Hudson). After meeting manager Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) at an amateur night, the girls find themselves on tour with one of the country's leading African-American entertainers named Jimmy Early (Eddie Murphy). As they tour the country, Curtis romances the girl's lead singer Effie White & slowly develops the girls as a solo act named the Dreams.
However, once the Dreams are ready to cross-over on their own, the dynamic changes completely & the happy rise to stardom becomes troublesome. In order to market the group to white audiences, Curtis replaces Effie with Deena as lead singer, causing a rift in the group dynamic which leads to Effie's retaliation & inevitable dismissal from the group. While the first half of the film focuses on the rise to stardom, the second half focuses on the continued stardom of Deena, who is now married to Curtis, & the struggle of Effie to make it on her own. As is clear from the plot description, the actual twists & turns of the plot are rather complex... but the depth with which they are examined is very lacking.
Nonetheless, what makes DREAMGIRLS one of the most thrilling cinematic experiences of the year is the sheer energy & talent of it's inarguably incredible cast. From the very first notes, it is clear that DREAMGIRLS is a return to the grandest of musical formats. Bill Condon has decided not to hold back in any way. The costumes, the lighting, the music, & the choreography are so "in your face" incredible that once this movie gets going the audience can't slow down. Bill Condon does a decent job of incorporating some racial tones into the film with the Detroit Riots and "I Have A Dream".. but these racial elements can't eclipse the glitz & glamor that makes DREAMGIRLS what it is.
No review of DREAMGIRLS would be complete without acknowledging the contributions of it's incredibly talented cast. Jamie Foxx in the role of conniving businessman Curtis Taylor Jr. brings a subtlety to the screen that is almost off-putting at first when you consider how flashy his performances usually are. However, Foxx's subtle sliminess makes the slow revelation that Curtis is a man virtually devoid of emotion all the more unsettling. Meanwhile, Beyonce Knowles as front-woman Deena Jones is certainly the most beautiful screen presence to reach the silver screen in years. But it would be an understatement to simply acknowledge Beyonce's beauty, as she manages to travel leaps & bounds above her previous screen efforts. On the page, Deena is an incredibly underdeveloped character, but in the few moments of depth we see in Deena, it is clear that the script short-changed Beyonce's potential here.
Eddie Murphy is a sheer joy in one of his best roles, & he exhibits a singing voice that sounds like it was plucked straight out of Motown's heyday. Again, like Deena Jones, Jimmy Early is rather underdeveloped on paper with a drug addiction that seems more like a plot contrivance than a genuine character flaw... but Eddie Murphy gives the sub-plot more resonance than one would expect from the script. His relationship with Lorrell (played by a delightful Anika Noni Rose) is surprisingly the most well developed romantic pairing in the film.
Finally, one can't possibly review DREAMGIRLS without acknowledging the fact that this will go down in history as the moment the world was truly introduced to the talents of Jennifer Hudson. As the most crucial role of the film, Effie White is the most emotionally rich character in the entire piece, while also being a scene stealer both vocally & attitude-wise. Hudson delivers on all levels, especially in the vocal department. If she does not go on to be a significant force in the music industry, it only goes to show that the industry sometimes has no clue what to do with genuine talent. In the acting department, Hudson doesn't shine quite as strongly as she does vocally... but for a reality star's film debut this is a transcendent performance richly deserving of the awards attention she has received.
Overall, one might ask why a film like DREAMGIRLS, with it's numerous flaws and shortcomings is still ranked with a 10 by myself. Personally, I think sometimes a film does not have to be graded simply on it's depth & complexity. There's a place in this world for movies that soar as sheer entertainment just as much as there is a place for heavy, dramatic pieces. DREAMGIRLS isn't the type of film that will change your life or reach it's audience on a deep level. However, it is the type of film I could watch over & over on DVD & still not absorb every detail. DREAMGIRLS might not be the "Best" motion picture of the year, but it certainly is the most entertaining motion picture I've seen in years.
... A ...
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