(director/writer: Bill Condon; screenwriters: based on the Broadway production/book by Tom Eyen; cinematographer: Tobias Schliessler; editor: Virginia Katz; music: Henry Krieger; cast: Jamie Foxx (Curtis Taylor Jr.), Beyoncé Knowles (Deena Jones), Eddie Murphy (James Early), Danny Glover (Marty Madison), Jennifer Hudson (Effie White), Anika Noni Rose (Lorrell Robinson), Keith Robinson (C. C. White), Sharon Leal (Michelle Morris), Hinton Battle (Wayne), Ken Page (Max Washington); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Laurence Mark; DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures; 2006)
“Aside from Jennifer Hudson’s beefy performance, this black r&b musical never conveys much soul.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Aside from Jennifer Hudson’s beefy performance, this black r&b musical never conveys much soul. When newcomer Hudson’s on the screen, this cliché-ridden all too familiar formulaic offering has some fire in its belly. Hudson is fabulous when she belts out the film’s showstopper signature number ”And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” But when she’s not on stage, we see all the weaknesses in writer-director Bill Condon’ (“Gods and Monsters/”Kinsey”) overlong and unmoving portrait of a rags-to-riches tale about singers dreaming of stardom and along the way paying for the high cost of success in the cutthroat recording industry. The narrative is thrown under the bus for all the souped-up musical numbers, which are heavily costumed and feature shots of the audience clapping wildly for the performers. The suggestion was that they were so good, but that seemed to be mostly in the eyes of the filmmakers and wasn’t a slam-dunk to this viewer; the songs were at best only so-so and pale considerably when compared with the Motown oldies.
Condon brings the music of Henry Krieger and the book and lyrics of Tom Eyen’s 1981 Tony award-winning Broadway musical to the screen with plenty of sizzle and flash (it was staged by director-choreographer Michael Bennett), but can’t do much with the characters or the complexities of the story in its attempt to deal with racial matters or the personal bickering. It doesn’t have enough energy to take it the 131 minutes it runs.
The story begins in the black part of Detroit in the early 1960s and stretches out over the course of 10 or 15 years. Three teenaged black girls have an r&b singing act as the Dreamettes (a takeoff on the Supremes) and enter an amateur contest, but lose because it’s fixed. Manipulative used Cadillac salesman Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) seizes the moment and becomes their manager and takes them on the road as backup singers to the flamboyant married womanizer Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy), who is a thinly-veiled imitation of James Brown. The act features lead singer, the large, ugly and loud Effie White (Jennifer Hudson, the 25-year-old was dismissed from ”American Idol”), the always excitable youngest one of the trio, Lorrell Robinson (Akina Noni Rose), and the beautiful, shy, and retiring Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles).
The oily manager Curtis (a fictionalization of Motown Records mogul Berry Gordy Jr.) gets them a shot as a solo act doing their Motown sound, but forces the group’s best voice to a backup role as he promotes the easy going and less talented Deena to be the star diva (who takes on the role of Diana Ross and her desperate career). With her pride hurt Effie quits, has Curtis’ child in secret and can’t get another singing gig. Her replacement is Michelle (Sharon Leal) and the group, now called the Dreamgirls, becomes a crossover hit in the pop charts as they rocket to the top.
The story in the second half veers from how the Dreamgirls handle success and about how Effie was screwed by her ambitious songwriter brother C.C. (Keith Robinson) and the controlling con man mogul Curtis, and how she handles obscurity until her inevitable comeback. It also shows Early’s fallout with the treacherous Curtis who ousts the legendary singer when he hits bottom, and some years later when Curtis gets his comeuppance when the Dreamgirls split up and he loses his woman Deena because she doesn’t want to be controlled by him anymore.
It was hard to get all lathered up about the naive performers and the greedy mogul co-existing, the shallow melodrama and all the forgettable splashy trivial pop numbers, especially when the film never could become intimate, touching or touch base with why the group spurned the Civil Rights Movement that happened on their watch.
REVIEWED ON 1/19/2007 GRADE: C https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/