Bill Condon may be a more capable filmmaker than Rob Marshall, but his Dreamgirls lacks the one quality that Marshall’s sub-par Best Picture winner Chicago had going for it – an invigorating, irresistible, knockout score. It’s a shortcoming attributable to the 1981 Broadway source material, and one glaringly amplified by the fact that Condon’s adaptation of Tom Eyen’s book – so lackluster that it doesn’t dramatize its central professional and romantic conflicts as much as it verbally articulates them – relies on its mundane music to bolster its otherwise thin Motown-set story. Infamously based upon Diana Ross and the Supremes, Dreamgirls charts the tumultuous ups and downs of the Dreamettes, who – with the help of shady promoter Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) – make a name for themselves backing up fading R&B star James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy). Rapid chart-topping crossover success, however, is soon complicated by the tension between beautiful lead singer Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) and self-destructive Effie White (American Idol runner-up Jennifer Hudson), the latter’s demotion from the front-and-center to backup duties because of her weight and titanic ego leading to nasty discord.
Condon isn’t much of a visual stylist, and his centerpiece set pieces lack a requisite electric charge. Nonetheless, the blame for the proceedings’ tepid mediocrity – aside from the writer/director’s cursory treatment of the Civil Rights movement raging outside his insulating nightclub locales, a cause Deena/Diana betrays by discarding Effie/Florence Ballard for white-audience popularity – falls squarely on Eyen and Henry Krieger’s so-so original tunes, which faithfully replicate the sounds of ‘60s and ‘70s pop-R&B hits (including some by B.B. King and Jackson 5 look-alikes) but never hit anything approaching an ecstatic high note. Hudson’s powerhouse pipes and soulful sassiness give her enough diva-tastic vivacity to ensure an Academy Award nomination (if not win). Yet the primary reason the all-attitude, little-depth newcomer stands out so forcefully from her illustrious costars is that they’re either stuck playing one-dimensional sexy scoundrels (Foxx), busy proving their wholesale inability to emote outside of decently choreographed musical sequences (Knowles), or tepidly rehashing decades-old sketch comedy routines (Murphy, whose Early proves to be a slightly more pitiful variation on the comedian’s memorable “It’s too hot in the hot tub!” James Brown caricature).
All that notwithstanding, I'd be willing to bet a Franklin on its Best Picture nomination.
Posted by: rob | December 12, 2006 at 10:50 PM
You'd likely win that bet.
Posted by: Nick | December 12, 2006 at 11:20 PM
Yeah, at this point, I'm hedging my bets on:
Letters from Iwo Jima
Posted by: rob | December 13, 2006 at 08:11 AM
At least I liked Letters from Iwo Jima and The Departed, and thought The Queen was ok. So it could be worse.
That said, it's next to impossible these days to even care about the Oscars. They may mean something to Hollywood and the celebri-journalists who cover it, but they mean nothing to me...
Posted by: Nick | December 13, 2006 at 08:20 AM
Yeah, personally they have next to none for me. I can't say I'm not excited when something I like/love gets attention, but I think that's only normal. Otherwise, my concern for them is rudimentary, their role in film culture painful but nonetheless very very real.
I too somewhat liked The Departed and The Queen. Letters I am looking forward to. Now, if the Academy would nominated Miami Vice for best cinematography, things might be looking up...
Posted by: rob | December 13, 2006 at 08:42 AM
...only to have Dreamgirls snatch the win faster than you can say "Jackson Pollack". I'd be personally satisfied if Vice or Dahlia get cinematography pointers, but I foresee Dreamgirls sweeping the art/costume/cinetog departments. Yay for soulless flare!
Posted by: Simon | December 13, 2006 at 04:42 PM
I hope The Departed is nominated, since that will give the Academy one acceptable film up for Best Picture, which automatically supercedes last year's fiasco. I think the Academy Awards are wonderful ... at nominating animated films (sans Shrek, naturally). Everything else could use better judgement. Nice to see Babel and Little Children out of that hypothetical running, I hope it plays out that way in reality.
Posted by: Joseph Young | December 13, 2006 at 07:56 PM
Ugh, I didn't think of Babel in compiling that (but even so, is it loved collectively enough? Depends on how Iwo Jima is recepted I guess). I loved 21 Grams, which made the almost insufferable Babel the most disappointing movie this year in my book.
Nick, you should start and Oscar thread. This could go on for awhile... :)
Posted by: rob | December 13, 2006 at 11:17 PM
Dreamgirls may very well sweep a lot of the "secondary" awards like art and costume design. As for cinematography, I think Children of Men - which is amazingly shot by Emmanuel Lubezki - may pull off an upset. However, as my ballot for the upcoming indieWIRE Film Critics Poll will show, I'm a Dion Beebe man this year...
As for Babel...yeah, that one may sneak in and snag a few nominations, and it's completely possible that it could even get a Best Pic nom (maybe knocking United 93 out?). Man, just thinking about that makes my head hurt...
And as for your suggestion, Rob - a de facto Oscar thread will arrive later this week when (barring unforseen delays) I post a link to Slant's year-end feature...
Posted by: Nick | December 13, 2006 at 11:51 PM
Re: Slant's year-end feature. I'm excited for that (I wonder how my predictions will hold up?).
Babel vs United 93? Ugh. Frankly, I probably prefer the latter - both made me miserable in ways I felt were completely useless, but I think Iñárritu's platform is more irritating.
This is something I just thought of. How is it that Miami Vice's DV look gets lambasted as it has, but United 93's is some stroke of fucking brilliance? I swear to god, it's MTV and Ron Howard, the self-proclaimed standard depreciators of the earth...
New blog by the way. Got tired of A Film Odyssey, and the easiest way to change the name AND take advantage of Bloggers' new features was to just start a new one. Same layout almost verbatim. First post is actually on Vice (since the DVD came out I've watched it three times...somebody stop me!).
Posted by: rob | December 14, 2006 at 08:06 AM
Regarding Slant's year-end feature - your predictions are more accurate than not.
I'd probably prefer United 93 over Babel as well. But I'd really prefer neither.
Speaking of which, it's just about time to start a new thread regarding the Golden Globe noms, which are atrocious...
(Thanks for the new blog heads-up. Changed my sidebar link accordingly)
Posted by: Nick | December 14, 2006 at 09:19 AM
Thanks for one of the few sensible reviews I've read of this unbearably overhyped, tuneless bore. Keep it up!
Posted by: Gary Morris | January 01, 2007 at 02:42 PM