When wanna be promoter Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) sees and hears The Dreamettes - Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) and Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) - at a talent show in 1960s Detroit, he sees a chance to make them and him a big name in music. He talks them into becoming their manager and gets them backing hot act James Early (Eddie Murphy), and then engineers their own solo act as The Dreams, with support and songs from Effie's brother C.C. (Keith Robinson). They become a family - but when Curtis anoints Deena the lead singer, replacing Effie's giant, soulful voice, to make the trio appeal to mainstream audiences, the 'family' begins to splinter even as their success grows. Tensions and betrayals divide the team over the following decade as the new Detroit sound evolves - at a price.
Review by Louise Keller:
With its sensational music, snappy editing and fabulous visuals, Dreamgirls has all the elements. Ambition, power, passion - plus Beyonce, Jamie Foxx and the extraordinary, Jennifer Hudson, who can belt out a song with so much soul, that it is likely to pierce your heart. Discovered by American Idol, Hudson has a larger than life presence and she can't help but steal much of the film. From the 80s Broadway musical, Bill Condon has created a showy spectacular of a film that is part drama, part musical. In Chicago, which Condon also penned, the musical numbers are fantasy, whereas Dreamgirls' songs, with a few exceptions, are mostly representative of the performances on stage. This is when the film's pulse throbs, with it's rhythm-rich, vocals that wail as they deliver their lyrics and musical gymnastics. My only reservation is that it tries to do too much, and as a result, the emotional impact is diffused. The film isn't quite the knockout we hope it will be, but it sure comes close.
The film begins at a talent show, when the three sassy Dreamettes are trying to establish their own sound and individuality. In no time at all, Jamie Foxx's smooth-talking car salesman, cum aspiring record producer Curtis has them signed up as backing singers for the headlining soul and rock'n roll singer James 'Thunder' Early, wonderfully portrayed by Eddie Murphy. This is the best thing Murphy has done for years, and he certainly can sing . 'I don't do ooos and aaahs', says Hudson's lead singer Effie White, intent on making her own name, but Curtis is convincing and controlling, both professionally and personally. Foxx keeps Curtis real and betrayal rears its ugly head when Effie is discarded as lead singer for Deena (Beyonce Knowles), the pretty one - on the show and in the bedroom.
There's plenty of drama - on and off stage, and our hearts reach out to Effie as she is pushed out of the group and left to struggle. Beyonce looks every inch the glamour puss and her vocal talents are never in doubt. Dreamgirls is high voltage entertainment that takes us on an eclectic and exciting trip. I had a great time.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's big, ballsy and filled with music, drama, pain and an urgent desire to make us part of a musical epic that distils a decade or more into just over two hours. It's a busy film. It's also filled with great talents, people who can act and sing with enormous zeal. The early part of the film is spectacularly good, creating powerful anticipatory tension, while introducing us to the dream team of the girls and their new mentor, Curtis (another terrific if subdued performance from Jamie Foxx), a resilient and resourceful car salesman with ambitions to make it big in music.
It's that same oversized Curtis ambition that gets them all into trouble, just as it is the filmmakers' own oversized ambition that tends to work against the film's emotional impact. The displays of Jennifer Hudson's awesome voice are overwrought, which is a shame since her performance as an actor is superb; ironically, her giant delivery has the effect of making us observers instead of participants.
The screenplay juggles the dynamic of dreams being chased, lost, regained, changed. But oddly enough, these elements don't grab us by the throat as firmly as they should; perhaps the story has a too familiar ring to it, though not necessarily because we recognise it as a fictionalised version of a super successful female group like, say The Supremes. The plot has acquired all the clichés of people striving to make it in their chosen showbiz medium, encountering egos, betrayals (sexual and financial), beating the odds, falling from grace and triumphant self discovery. That is all valid enough, but the film tries too hard to press all these buttons in triplicate.
Technically excellent in every department - except quite a lot of the dialogue is incomprehensible - Dreamgirls (built on the Tony award winning stage musical of some 25 years ago) sets up extreme expectations it doesn't quite fulfil, although it has its heart in the right place. And the preview audience at the first Australian screening loved it.
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CAST: Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Keith Robinson, Hinto Battle, Sharon Leal, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover, John Lithgow
PRODUCER: Laurence Mark
DIRECTOR: Bill Condon
SCRIPT: Bill Condon (book by Tom Eyen)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tobias A. Schliessler
EDITOR: Virginia Katz
MUSIC: Harvey Mason jr, Damon Thomas
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Myhre
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 18, 2007