Dreamgirls

The nominations:

  • Actor – Supporting: Eddie Murphy
  • Actress – Supporting: Jennifer Hudson
  • Art Direction
  • Costume Design
  • Original Song:
    • “Listen”
    • “Love You I Do”
    • “Patience”
  • Sound Mixing

The Black-and-White:

Hands down, Dreamgirls is the most enjoyable 2006 movie I’ve seen in a movie theater in the past six months. Bill Condon’s film adaptation of the Broadway musical was a delight for the ears and eyes — the hair! the songs! the clothes! the hair!

Here’s the IMDb synopsis:

Based on the 1981 Broadway musical comes Dreamgirls, a story of greed, tough hate, and romance. Three young women Deena Jones (Knowles), Effie White (Hudson), and Lorrell Robinson (Rose) desire to become pop stars and get their wish when they’re picked to be backup singers for the legendary James “Thunder” Early (Murphy). Then they’re set free for leads, but Curtis Taylor (Foxx) and Effie’s brother C.C. (Robinson) decide for Deena to be lead which upsets Effie. This movie contains both original Broadway and new songs and it’s one movie that the whole family will enjoy! With Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Keith Robinson, and Danny Glover!

Although I thought Condon’s decision to retain the basic pacing of the stage show created unnecessarily slow parts, overall his direction was strong and ultimately it’s the acting — rather than the music — that holds the movie together. Most of the female cast members, including singer Beyonce Knowles and supporting actress nominee Jennifer Hudson, have little acting experience but under Condon’s direction their performances had depth and chemistry.

Eddie Murphy is favored to win the supporting actor category, but I’m not sure that I would pick him over Little Miss Sunshine‘s Alan Arkin. Murphy certainly moved more in the direction of acting (as opposed to performing) in this film, but it still felt like a caricature to me. While that interpretation of the character might have been appropriate for the stage, a more subtle portrayal would have gone a long way toward humanizing Jimmy Early.

Jennifer Hudson’s performance of “And I am telling you I am not going” was every bit as electrifying and moving as when I heard Jennifer Holliday sing the same song in the Broadway production over 20 years ago. Hudson’s performance overall was strong, although again I am not sure that she would be my pick for the supporting actress nod. When not the focus of the action, Hudson often seemed not quite in character in the background — a small thing, and something that will definitely get better as she becomes more experienced as an actress, but I found it momentarily distracting.

The new songs written just for the film, three of which are nominated in the best song category, blend seamlessly with the original book. I honestly couldn’t remember which of the songs I was singing as I walked out of the theater was new and which was from the stage production. I think any one of them can hold their own against the other two song nominees.

The only other aspect of the film I’ll mention is Condon’s decision to emphasize the historical context of the music — riots in Detroit, segregation, Vietnam. While I do recall there being some mention of these issues in the stage production, including the images in the film created a much more political statement than the original show. I’m not sure whether it it worked and that, along with my earlier comment about the pacing, is why I am leaning away from Condon as best director.

Despite these small criticisms, however, this really was one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. I left the theater feeling uplifted and entertained. And wanting to go back and do it all over again!

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