Review by: Larry Thomas
Back in 1976, a little film called Sparkle was released. It was about
a three girl singers determined to make it big in the music business. It had more
than a passing resemblance to Diana Ross and the Supremes. While it wasn't a huge
success, it had enough charm to win it some very favorable reviews.
Five years later, the Broadway stage lit up with Dreamgirls, a similarly-themed
play that ran for some fourteen-hundred performances and managed to accumulate
six Tony awards, including best actor, actress and supporting actor. While it
did not acknowledge the film Sparkle, it was even more of an unauthorized
tale of the rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes.
So, after twenty-five years, can the film version of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls
manage to collect a treasure trove of Oscars, just as the original play did
with the Tonys? Conventional wisdom says yes.
The plot, while mirroring real life, is as simple as the earliest musical movies...
girl group with a dream gets the big chance to work their way to the top. Unfortunately,
it's a hard road, with hard lessons. They find that dreams and reality
don't necessarily co-exist... especially in show biz.
Jamie Foxx is fine in his role as the "bad guy" of the piece, modeled
on Motown mogul Berry Gordy Jr. Beyonce Knowles plays Deena Jones, the Diana
Ross character, and is a fine actress as well as singer.
Eddie Murphy... you remember him... is back with a vengeance channeling several
popular singers of the day, and is electrifying. If you thought you'd
never live to hear the words "Eddie Murphy" and Oscar nomination
in the same sentence, prepare yourself... it may just happen.
Anika Noni Rose, a Tony-winning actress herself, is funny and charming as the
Mary Wilson character. Unfortunately, with all the star power in this film,
she seems to be getting short shrift in the publicity department. That's
too bad, as this would have been a scene-stealing performance in any other film.
Everyone seems to be just glowing over Jennifer Hudson, a former contestant
on "American Idol," as she chews up the screen with both a dynamic
performance and an outstanding singing voice as Effie White. The character of
Effie is based on Florence Ballard, the original lead singer of the Supremes.
When replaced as the lead by the svelte and more charismatic Ross, Ballard's
career and personal life went in the tank. Just like Effie. And just like another
Jennifer... Holiday on Broadway... this is a star-making performance for
Jennifer Hudson. You may remember the often-used line from 1933's 42nd
Street... "You're going out there a youngster, but you have
got to come back a STAR." This is the personification of that
chestnut. It's real, and Hudson has found her big break, not only in movies,
but music as well.
Let's not forget writer-director Bill Condon, who wrote the film version
of Chicago, and directed the terrific Gods and Monsters. He
infuses Dreamgirls with a sense of style that blends both great moviemaking
with the feel of watching a Broadway performance.
Audience reaction has also been on the spectacular side. There are reports
of standing ovations and extended applause, as if in a live theatre. It's
almost as if filmgoers want to call the entire cast back for an encore. That's
appropriate, since at 2 hours, 10 minutes, Dreamgirls is a film that
leaves you wanting more. And that's the mark of a really good movie.