The film adaptation of the 1981 Tony Award-winning musical about a black female singing trio’s rise to fame embodies the same qualities that made “Chicago” a hit, yet stands on its own.
“Dreamgirls” stars Oscar winner Jamie Foxx as Curtis Taylor Jr., the girl group’s conniving manager; Grammy winner Beyonce Knowles as Deena, the group’s easily manipulated lead singer; Tony winner Anika Noni Rose as the trio’s shy Lorrell; and Eddie Murphy as James “Thunder” Early, the adulterous opening act that the girls join at the beginning of their rise to fame.
And then there’s Jennifer Hudson, a former “American Idol” finalist from the third season. Sporting a reputation for being a fan-favorite, yet booted too soon from the show, she plays the role of Effie White.
However, Hudson has no supporting role. Effie is the central character in the story, with the most lines, songs and substance. Casting her was a huge gamble by the producers and a decision that effected whether or not the film would be a hit.
In a glitzy big-name cast of Oscar, Grammy and Tony winners, Hudson grabs the spotlight and baths in it.
Even next to the queen of Destiny’s Child herself, Hudson – dare I say it – outshines Miss Beyonce.
Her performance is real, moody and passionate. It doesn’t feel like this is Hudson’s first film.
Knowles is quite great in what she calls her “first real acting job.” And she’s right – Deena is a refreshing departure from her shallow roles in “Goldmember” and “The Pink Panther.” This is a smart career move for Knowles.
Her classy performance in this classy movie gives her more credibility as an actress, which is clearly what Knowles wants.
Deena doesn’t do much, but it’s almost part of her character. She’s supposed to be a pretty face – that’s why the all-business Curtis appoints her as lead singer of the group in order to sell more records.
Deena is easily manipulated throughout most of the film. Knowles subtly portrays Deena’s meekness as she lets the men in her life walk all over her – only to make her moments of strength and defiance toward the end of the film even more engaging.
On paper, Foxx is a great choice for Curtis, but he comes through a bit stale.
Ultimately, he isn’t as memorable as the females, yet he might be at a disadvantage because the role doesn’t have many songs attached to it.
Eddie Murphy gives a very different performance than anything he’s ever done before as the wild “Thunder” Early.
He’s outrageous with a Little Richard flare, slimy as he seduces the innocent Lorrell into an affair and then sad as he reveals his heroin addiction.
It’s a surprising performance that reveals the many talents of Murphy that the audience hasn’t seen.
The film is fast, slick and sexy. The musical numbers are innovative, not simply singing to an audience. Condon clearly has taken a Broadway musical, and instead of taking the lazy road and transposing it to celluloid, he has actually done the work and created a way to make it work for film.
“Dreamgirls” deserves to be a major Oscar contender this season.
Watch for it to compete in the areas of Best Picture, Director, Cinematography and Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson. In itself, it’s a fantastic adaptation, yet it also is doubling as savior for the whole movie musical genre.
Jesse North can be reached at email@example.com.