"DREAMGIRLS" (2006) Review
When I had first learned that the eight Academy Award nominations for the 2006 musical, "DREAMGIRLS", did not include one for Best Picture and a Best Director nod for Bill Condon, it seemed pretty odd to me. The movie, based upon the 1981 Broadway musical, had already won plenty of accolades – including a Best Musical/Comedy Picture and two other Golden Globe awards. Was it possible that "DREAMGIRLS" had failed to live up to its hype?
Several movie critics, including one for “The New York Times” claimed that this might be the case. This critic and others went on to say that although "DREAMGIRLS" was a pretty good movie, it lacked the qualities to be considered as a nominee for Best Picture. Since I had yet to see "DREAMGIRLS" at the time, I began to wonder if my sister – who had first recommended the movie – had exaggerated its good qualities. Just recently, I had watched "DREAMGIRLS" for the umpteenth time. Needless to say that when I first saw the movie, I realized that my sister had not exaggerated. The movie not only possessed a rich, in-depth look at the music industry for African-Americans in the 1960s and 70s, it can also boast fine performances and a very unusual direction.
The cast, which included Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover and Jennifer Hudson; were all excellent. Foxx, Knowles and Glover all did competent jobs in their respective roles. I was especially surprised to see Foxx (usually seen in comedy and action roles and an Oscar winner for his portrayal of Ray Charles) portrayed villainous record producer Curtis Taylor Jr. in a rather subtle, yet intimidating manner. Knowles proved that she could be a competent actress – especially in two scenes that feature her character’s (lead singer Deena Jones) growing resentment toward Taylor’s control over her career and life. It was good to see Glover in a substantial role again, after so many years. He was his usual competent self as the more conservative manager of Eddie Murphy’s character, James “Thunder” Early. Another character connected to the Early role was Lorrell Robinson, portrayed by Anika Noni Rose. I must admit that Rose’s portrayal of the young, star-struck Lorrell seemed a little hammy and unconvincing. Fortunately, her performance improved when her character matured. By the time Lorrell became convinced that her long affair with the mercurial James had been a mistake, Rose gave a very poignant performance.
Two of the best things about "DREAMGIRLS" turned out to be the show-stopping performances of Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson as R&B singer, James “Thunder” Early and the Dreams’ real talent Effie White. Not only did both performers won Golden Globe awards for Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress respectively, both received Oscar nominations for the same categories. Murphy bypassed his usual comedic performances to portray James Early as a R&B singer doomed to have his raw talent being slowly squeezed to death by Curtis Taylor’s ambition for acceptance by the white audience in 1960s/70s America. Not only did Murphy give a brilliant performance as the doomed Early, he also proved that he could be a knock-out musical talent. "DREAMGIRLS" must have seemed like sweet revenge for Chicago native, Jennifer Hudson. After being dismissed by “American Idol” judges halfway into competition, Hudson managed to win the role of Effie White, a talented and mercurial singer forced to deal with rejection by Taylor because of her “soulful” voice and physical appearance. Hudson’s show-stopping performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” combined the best of her acting ability and magnificent voice, and may have possibly rivaled Jennifer Holliday’s performance of the same song in the Broadway version.
Not only did “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” beautifully showcased Jennifer Hudson’s talent, it also proved a theory of mine. I had once told a friend that singing in front of a live audience took more than simply holding a microphone and singing. To get the song across to the audience, the performer needed to act out the meaning behind the song through facial expressions and body language. Such expressions through song has been shown before on both the screen and stage, but Hudson took it to a level that left me breathless . . . and almost crying. Not only did the song’s lyrics expressed Effie White’s desperation to maintain Curtis Taylor’s love, but her facial expression and body language effectively did so, as well. I also have to commend Knowles, Foxx, Rose, Keith Robinson (who played Effie’s songwriter brother C.C.) and Sharon Leal (who played Effie’s replacement, Michelle Morris) for their performances in a scene in which they all express their hostility and resentment toward Effie’s volatile behavior. For a moment, I thought I was watching an opera.
In fact, one felt the sense of watching an opera or an operetta, instead of the usual musical. Since the Astaire/Rogers series of the 1930s, movie musicals have perfected the art of movie dialogue seamlessly segueing in a song. In "DREAMGIRLS", not only does the dialogue segue into song, but sometimes segue back into dialogue in the middle of a song. Or . . . two characters would end either do the following: 1) interrupt the dialogue with a few lines of song; or 2) switch back and forth between song and dialogue. This made "DREAMGIRLS" feel like no other movie musical I have ever seen and I have to commend director Bill Condon for creating this unusual style for any musical.
Now, I find myself back to thinking about those Academy Award nominations. Had the critics been right to believe that "DREAMGIRLS" had never deserved the nominations for Best Picture and Best Director? In the end, those critics were entitled to their own opinions. But I had learned from another source that "DREAMGIRLS" had enough votes from the Academy members to receive a Best Picture nomination. But from my personal view, all I can say is . . . ”What in the hell had the Academy been thinking?”