Feb 18, 2007

Moview Review: Dreamgirl

I was wowed from the word 'go'. It was a visual extravaganza of a movie musical, powerful, unstoppable and gorgeously entertaining all the way! I have to admit that I wouldn't have cared for this little publicised movie had it not been for the praise and raves it got in the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards recently. This is, without a doubt, Jennifer Hudson's year. The ex-American Idol finalist, who never made it to the 'top three' in the 2004 season of "Idol" might just bowl everybody over and grab that golden statuette this February 25th (she's already taken home a Globe and a SAG award). She is the raison d'etre of this film. Every time she appears on screen, singing or otherwise, she burns a hole in it and commands your attention, even more so than the critically appraised Eddie Murphy (who is also Oscar-nominated and has won the Golden Globe for this film) or the ravishingly beautiful Beyonce Knowles.

This is not to say that Hudson is the best actress ever or that she has the best voice but playing the part of Effie White, the proud but self-destructive lead singer in an all-black trio called the "Dreamettes" back in the 1960s (like Diana Ross and the Supremes, which the story is loosely based on), she just comes across with force. Effie, like Hudson herself, is 'all-woman'; she's plus-sized with a huge voice to match and it is she, as the lead singer, who brings the house down at a Detroit amateur contest as part of a trio with Deena (Beyonce Knowles) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose). They don't win the contest but are spotted by backstage hustler and opportunist Curtis Taylor Jr (Jamie Foxx) who persuades them to do back-up for local R&B celebrity, James "Thunder" Early (Murphy). They sign the deal and before they know it, Effie, Lorrell and Deena are wooed by both men. In no time, Effie falls for Taylor.

On the surface, this is a classic story of fame changing everything for everyone, but the subtext is also about black-discrimination the era of the 60s to the 70s, the civil rights movement in America and the rise of Motown (a label for black entertainers), through a Motown-like label for black performers called Rainbow Records. When the film takes a break from song and dance, it cuts to scenes of dissension in the streets. Soon, to make "The Dreamettes" more appealing to the white-dominated market, Taylor tells Effie that Deena will be the lead singer because the act needs to "lighten" up its sound in order to draw a larger audience. The implications are clear. Effie takes the jolt badly but soon accepts that this is what they will have to do to be heard. She takes a back seat, and Deena gets groomed from a shy girl with no confidence singing backup to a world class diva. Along the way, Effie gets dumped - and this is where she sings her heart-rending signature song And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going - and gets replaced and forgotten.

The role of Effie is not an easy one. Effie is arrogant but vulnerable and Hudson juggles the duality of that character like a pro. When she sings that song in a masterpiece of a performance, she rips her heart wide open and reveals the blindness of her pride and the genuineness of her pain. What makes it all so amazing is that Hudson is a newcomer.

"Dreamgirls", which is rooted in the lives of the main characters, derives much of its strength from its performances. The movie is a mosaic of character personalities and how they each deal with fame, pressure, performing, and what they all owe one another as they make their journey together. Writer-director Bill Condon, who wrote the screenplay for "Chicago", gives each personality his or her own chance to shine. Aided by the brilliant songs of Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen, the characters bare their heart and soul to us through music and we sympathise with everyone of them, well... except maybe Foxx, whose villainous role makes him hateful, but that gives further credence to his stature as an incredible talent, both as an actor as well as a singer.

Beyonce is of course, as usual, lovely. Ironically, the diva finds herself in a role that downplays her superstar status in the real world. Her Deena is one who is weak and easily manipulated. She prefers to be a back-up singer behind Effie but finds herself helplessly thrust into the spotlight by Taylor. Deena doesn't have the voice but her looks sell. Can this be said of Beyonce herself? Hmmm. Still, she proves her worth in the singing department and gives a really impassioned rendition of "Listen". You will be overwhelmed.

Eddie Murphy also gives a magnetic performance. His sleazy pompadoured James "Thunder" Early is a hybrid of James Brown and Little Richard, and is at first introduced as a slimy womaniser. But he suffers the biggest hit when Taylor decides that he must tone down his act to be more appealing to the prudish white audience. Murphy pulls off his downfall so well that we feel really sorry for him.

Keith Robinson is not bad too. He plays Effie's songwriter/choreographer brother who loses and then finds his soul.

All in all, "Dreamgirls" takes us on a wholly enjoyable journey, with glitz, glam, fantastic costumes and great music, true to the facts of the era. It's the 'must-see' of the month. I enjoyed this outing even more than "Chicago" and "Moulin Rouge", and I believe you will too. (source: http://malaysia.movies.yahoo.com/Dreamgirls/movie/13807/).

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