Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/25/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Based on the Broadway musical by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger, Dreamgirls is the story of three young women from Detroit trying to make it as singers as they go from singing backup for a popular R&B singer to becoming a popular singing group with the help of a ruthless and sleazy car salesman who becomes their manager. Written for the screen and directed by Bill Condon, the film is an exploration of three women trying to succeed as they would pay a major price for their success where two of these women would embark into their own individual journeys. Starring Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Washington, Sharon Leal, Hinton Battle, and introducing Jennifer Hudson. Dreamgirls is a sensational and lively film from Bill Condon.
It's 1962 in Detroit as three girls named Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles), and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) are about to perform as the Dreamettes at a talent competition in a Detroit theater. Along with Effie's brother C.C. (Keith Robinson) who is their songwriter, they hope to win big. Instead, they’re defeated as they managed to catch the attention of an ambition Cadillac dealer named Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) who decides to give them a break. After talking to a man named Marty (Danny Glover) who is the manager to popular R&B singer James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy), the Dreamettes become his backup group. The married Early falls for Lorrell as they tour around the country in African-American theaters. Hoping to break into the mainstream, Curtis decides to employ C.C. to write a song for Early called Cadillac Car that becomes a R&B hit. Unfortunately, the song was then remade into a pop song by a white act that steals its thunder. Deciding to resort to payola with help from Wayne (Hinton Battle), Curtis manages to get another C.C. White-penned song Steppin' To The Bad Side for James Early that becomes a smash hit. Forming a new label called Rainbow Records, Curtis hopes to make the label big with James as his premier act.
With Marty out of the picture, Curtis reinvents James as a crooner by premiering his act at a Miami nightclub. Curtis then notices that a young white man taking a look at Deena. Deciding to break the Dreamettes from James to form their own act. He makes a decision to have Deena sing lead instead of the full-figured Effie, who has a superior voice. Effie reluctantly goes with the move at the insistence of everyone including C.C. Now called the Dreams, they become a huge hit all over the world as their success in the mid-60s nearly rivals the popularity of the Beatles. Yet with success mounting, Effie becomes frustrated as she is convinced that Curtis, who is her boyfriend, is sleeping with Deena. The mounting tension finally leads to Effie being kicked out of the group and replaced by Curtis' secretary Michelle Morris (Sharon Leal) for a New Years Eve performance at a Las Vegas nightclub.
Eight years later in 1973, Deena Jones and the Dreams become a huge success but Deena suddenly finds herself unhappy with her success as Curtis has huge plans to have her star in a film version about Cleopatra. With Rainbow Records now based in Los Angeles, Curtis hopes to go into bigger territory as he has other acts making money for him. Back in Detroit, Effie has now become a single mother with a child named Magic (Mariah I. Wilson) living on welfare with her father Ronald (Alexander Folk) looking on them as he maintains contact with her brother C.C. Effie eventually, swallows her pride as she gets help from Marty to revitalize her career. Back in Los Angeles, C.C. becomes disillusioned with Curtis tampering his music and the direction Rainbow Records is heading. Even as Curtis loses interest in helping James Early's career in which his star has faded and has succumbed to drug abuse, things start to fall apart. C.C. finally leaves Los Angeles to help Effie with her career as he writes a song called One Night Only that starts to climb up the charts in Detroit. Yet, Curtis strikes back when he has Deena and the Dreams to record a disco-version of the song that becomes a smash. When Deena learns what Curtis did and all of the things he's been doing to her, she makes a move that not only helps Effie but also would find inspiration for her own individuality.
The film is essentially inspired by Motown and the rise of the Supremes that included some legendary myths about Diana Ross' affair with Motown's Berry Gordy who chose her to sing lead in the Supremes instead of Florence Ballard who tragically died in the 70s after being kicked out of the group in the late 60s. While screenwriter and director Bill Condon doesn't make any actual references to that truth, the film is really a focus on these three talented young women who become a singing group and hoping to make it as well as the harsh reality that is the music industry. While the film's sense of glossy lavishness and high-production musical numbers might not be for everyone. It still helps carry the story while underneath all those songs is a study of greed in the industry that is now becoming more relevant than ever as the music industry itself, is starting to shoot itself in the foot.
Yet, Condon's focus on the Dreams rise from pop to disco as well as other characters including James Early and Curtis Taylor Jr. Condon's direction plays like a true musical with amazing musical numbers that are often either a band-like performance, a recording, or some kind of lavish production. While Condon lets the audience know that a musical number is coming, it doesn't come out forced and flows naturally as if it's part of the story. The use of wide shots to emphasize the lavish productions, dance numbers, and performances works to convey that feel of the musical. The result is a solid film from the mind of Bill Condon.
Cinematographer Tobias A. Schleissler does an excellent job in the film's look from the stylish lighting of the musical performances to the colorful exteriors of the locations including Detroit and Los Angeles. Editor Virginia Katz does a solid job in the film's cutting without resorting to fast-paced cutting styles in most mainstream features. Instead, Katz maintains the film's spontaneity for its musical performances. Production designer John Myhre and set decorator Nancy Haigh do a fantastic job in creating the set designs for the musical numbers, the nightclub scenes, and the first Rainbow Records building to capture the sense of period of the 60s and the 70s. Costume designer Sharen Davis does a wonderful job in capturing the look of the period with the costumes from the glam-like dresses, 60s go-go clothing, 70s glam with afros, and sparkles with help from a team of make-up and costume designers.
Sound designer/editor Richard E. Yawn does an excellent job in capturing the essence of performance in the staging and dancing along with the differing atmospheres of Detroit and the polished places. Choreographer Fatima Robinson does a wonderful job on the dancing to help capture the rhythm and melody of the songs. The songs of Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger from the musical return as they're definitely memorable with such songs as Fake Your Way To The Top, Cadillac Car, Steppin' To The Bad Side, Family, Dreamgirls, Heavy, When I First Saw You, One Night Only (and its disco reprise), and the famous, And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going. New songs for the film like the thumping soul song Love You Like I Do by Henry Krieger and Sediah Garrett for Jennifer Hudson, Listen by Henry Krieger, Scott Cutler, Anne Preven, and Beyonce Knowles, Patience by Henry Krieger and Willie Reale for Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, and Eddie Murphy, and Perfect World by Krieger and Sediah Garrett for the Jackson 5 dopplegangers the Campbell Connection. The new songs are great to convey the mood of the times and its connection to the film's story.
The casting by Debra Zane and Jay Binder is wonderfully assembled with notable appearances from Jaleel White as a talent booker, Dawnn Lewis as James' wife Melba, Yvette Carson as Deena's mother May, Ken Page as a club owner who lets Effie sing, and cameo appearances from John Krasinski and John Lithgow as filmmakers talking to Deena about a project and one of the original Dreamgirls stage actresses Loretta Devine as a jazz singer. Mariah I. Wilson is excellent as Effie's daughter Magic along with Alexander Folk as Effie and C.C.'s father. Hinton Battle, another actor who appeared in the Broadway version, is excellent as Curtis' cohort who is forced to do bad deeds for Curtis including payola. Sharon Leal is terrific as the Cindy Songbird-inspired Michelle Morris who replaces Effie unaware of what she's doing to the group.
Keith Robinson is excellent as songwriter C.C. White who tries to create great songs for James Early and the Dreams only to get up in success and then become disillusioned by Curtis' view of music and its purpose. Anika Noni Rose is wonderful as Lorrell Robinson who is the glue of the group trying to keep the dreams together while falling for James and becomes his mistress as she is trying to figure out their relationship. Danny Glover is great as James' manager Marty who tries to help him make it and without any kind of seedy business moves like payola as he later becomes Effie's mentor as he tries to help revive her career. Beyonce Knowles is good and appropriately cast as Deena Jones who is known more for her beauty and pop-like voice as a woman who is trying to find her true identity. Knowles is good when she's singing though her work as a dramatic actress is a bit spotty. She's engaging but lacks the depth in being very dramatic.
Eddie Murphy is in excellent form as the James Brown-inspired James "Thunder" Early who is filled with charm and wit about being an original and a star. Then when he is forced to become a commercial singer, he becomes frustrated turning to drug addiction while trying to reclaim his identity and stardom. Murphy's performance both acting wise and in musical performance is brilliant, even in his singing that is top-notch. Jamie Foxx is great as the sleazy, ambitious Curtis Taylor Jr. who wants to make in the business at any cost as he has a lot of charm and bravado in his role while doing an amazing rendition of When I First Saw You that proves Foxx's many talents. The film's best and breakthrough performance definitely goes to Jennifer Hudson as Effie White. Hudson manages to be both engaging and powerful as the big girl with an attitude who knows that all she can do is sing. Hudson is great and subtle in her dramatic acting while it's her work as a singer that is just divine
Dreamgirls is a phenomenal film from Bill Condon that features brilliant performances from Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, and Danny Glover. It's a film that manages to be more than just an entertaining musical but also a compelling piece into the cynical world of the music industry. It's also a film about control and how those become compromised as they want to find their own voice in the world. In the end, Dreamgirls is a remarkable film from Bill Condon.
© thevoid99 2015