Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dreamgirls Revisited

In the time between I first saw Dreamgirls in theaters and when I picked up my copy of the DVD last week, a lot has happened to the general opinion of the film. It went from the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar to being snubbed entirely in that category; my beloved Jennifer Hudson was constantly derided for her "lack of talent" in the speaking sections of her role (but she got the last laugh winning her deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar); Eddie Murphy went from sure bet in the Best Supporting Actor category to "Let’s give it to the profane grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine" in a matter of weeks; and somehow the gay vote swung from the Beyoncé ballad "Listen" in the Best Original Song category to the average, anti-global warming anthem "I Need to Wake Up" from power lesbian Melissa Etheridge. After all of this backlash, I thought that my opinion would be swayed somewhat. Imagine my surprise when I realized that this second viewing would strengthen my opinion that it is one of the best films of 2006.
Let me just say that writer/director Bill Condon sure knows how to stage a musical number. Coming from the Fosse school of musical editing and timing, Condon turns every song into a magical, electric moment. Upon first viewing, "And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going" belongs solely to Jennifer Hudson, but now I can see Condon’s style playing a bigger part in the success of the number. Another number that surprised me in its technical proficiency is the second half of "Steppin’ to the Bad Side" in which Jimmy Early and the Dreamettes are performing the song for an audience. The style of it and the choice of editing was fairly reminiscent of the "Take Off With Us" number from Fosse’s All That Jazz.
One thing about the mauling of Dreamgirls that really irks me is the genuine disinterest in Beyoncé’s performance in the film. Sure, J. Hud, Eddie Murphy and even, to some extent, Anika Noni Rose steal the show and Beyoncé isn’t a great "actress" by any means, but the role of Deena is tailored for her. Replace The Dreams with Destiny’s Child, Effie with the three ladies kicked out of Destiny’s Child and Jamie Foxx’s Curtis with her father Mathew and you’ve got Beyoncé’s professional career. Deena isn’t a great dramatic role that requires a powerful actress in the Meryl Streep/Judi Dench vein- all that is needed is a great presence and Beyoncé definitely fits that bill. Deena is supposed to be a manufactured product, a puppet whose strings are controlled by Curtis and Beyoncé believably delivers a performance that stays true to these origins. For example, watch the scene where she has the secret meeting with John Lithgow and some other random writer to discuss an upcoming movie project. She asserts her independence, how Curtis doesn’t run every part of her life and even drops an f-bomb to throw us off. But, somehow, all of this still comes off as artificial and phony. Beyoncé is a smarter actress than most of us give her credit for and maybe Dreamgirls will be the launching pad she needs to jump start the acting career she desperately wants.
All in all, Dreamgirls is well worth your time if you love "razzle dazzle" musicals (Chicago and Moulin Rouge! could also be considered in this brand of musical) with beautiful dresses, amazing sets, tons of glitter and quite a few divas. Even if you don’t, watch it for amazing performances from Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy which will continue to surprise you through out the film.


J.D. Judge said...

I'm glad someone thought Beyonce was pretty good in it.

Juanita's Journal said...

Of course Beyone Knowles did a great job. After all, she did managed to snag a Golden Globe nomination.

Actually, the only person I had a little trouble with was Anika Noni Rose as the teenaged Lorrell. She improved as the character aged.