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Categories: Movie Reviews

Dreamgirls was released in December 2006 to critical acclaim and many major awards. Eight years on, does it still stand as one of the best musicals around?

It’s been almost a decade since the release of Bill Condon’s award-winning musical Dreamgirls, based on the 1981 Broadway musical by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen, but the Motown songfest is still lively as ever. 

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Dreamgirls might, in fact, be too lively for its own good. Following the Dreamettes, a group of three talented singers, Effie White (Jennifer Hudson in an Oscar-winning role), Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) and Lorrell Maya Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), director Condon flits over unsung scenes like a hyperactive puppy.

He rushes past the non-musical dialogue, cutting between the characters with nearly every word, as if he’s itching to get to the musical parts and the rest is just obligatory filler. 

And perhaps he was right. Dreamgirls is a celebration of soul and rhythm, pitting producer Curtis Taylor, Jr (Jamie Foxx) as the villain, a businessman who’d rather make money with the cutesy, restrained pinup Deena Jones as the head of the Dreamettes than have Effie release her passionate, thunderous bellow for the world to hear. She doesn’t look the part, and pays the price. 

Also in the mix is Eddie Murphy as Jimmy “Thunder” Early, a swaggering, hedonistic sex machine who helps give the Dreamettes their first big break. He has an affair with Lorrell while Curtis pursues Deena, leading to many an epic musical moment in the climactic scenes of the film. 

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Murphy’s performance was arguably snubbed for an Oscar, losing to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine, and while I loved the latter performance I can see the appeal here. While Hudson can be credited with the film’s most powerful vocals (Murphy’s voice is surprisingly good too, however) and its emotional gravitas, Murphy steals the scene every time he’s on screen, channelling the energy and passion the impatient dialogue scenes save up. 

Fit with pitch-perfect costumes and sets and a sufficient sense of scope and grandiosity, Dreamgirls is an enjoyable musical, even if it has to rely on the voices of its actors to carry certain scenes.

Had it not been for Jennifer Hudson, for instance, a few early moments in the film would be unwatchable, choreographed so formulaically to fit the cheesy lyrics they are almost soul-draining rather than exciting or enlightening.

I found the performance of “Family” especially cringeworthy despite the sincerity of its message, but was too concerned with Hudson’s amazing vocals to care all that much. 

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The performances of Hudson and Murphy are certainly the main reasons to watch Dreamgirls, though Beyoncé’s performance is praiseworthy also. Arguably she had the harder role, since she had to tone down her voice to fit the “pretty face” stereotype of her character. If we’ve learnt anything about her since the release of Dreamgirls, it’s certainly not that she’s just another pretty face. 

Dreamgirls is a crowd-pleaser, a musical with good enough music for its setting and voices to elevate it to something even more special. It has just enough commentary about the music industry to be interesting, and just enough passion to be exciting, though the scenes featuring music are far more spectacular than the glazed-over filler in between, at least on a visual level. Whether or not it’s still considered notable eight years from now is up to the public to decide, but there could be worse musicals to put in the history books.

3 out of 4 stars

By Cameron Johnson, interim Editor of The Spread. 

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Posted on Jan 1, 2015

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