Thursday 6 October 2022

Movie Review: Dreamgirls (2006)

A musical drama, Dreamgirls is a glitzy rags to riches story infused with powerful singing and overheated passions.

In Detroit of the 1960s, car dealer and part-time music promoter Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) spots energetic amateur trio The Dreamettes, consisting of temperamental lead singer Effie (Jennifer Hudson), patient Deena (Beyoncé Knowles), and good-natured Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose). They perform music written by Effie's talented brother C.C. (Keith Robinson). Curtis signs the trio as background vocalists for soul star and rampant womanizer Jimmy "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy).

Curtis is eager to develop new sounds and grow the group's appeal with white audiences. He changes their name to the Dreams and turns them into headliners. He also designates Deena as the lead, much to Effie's disappointment. The group achieves huge success into the 1970s, with Deena and Curtis becoming a power couple and Lorrell maintaining a long-term relationship with Early. But Effie cannot accept her back-up role, and internal divisions threaten to tear the group apart.

An adaptation of the hit Broadway musical by Henry Krieger (music) and Tom Eyen (lyrics), Dreamgirls is unofficially but obviously based on the story of The Supremes, Diana Ross, and Motown Records. Written and directed by Bill Condon, the movie struts with confidence stemming from the close-to-real-life grand drama, and sparkles with colour, costumes, hairdos, and stage lights for a mostly exhilarating 130 minutes.

Tracing the formation and breakthrough of The Dreams up to Effie's departure, the first half is by far the stronger part of the film. The drive to success carries the scrappy but unified energy of underdogs taking on the music world, powered by the group's innocent nothing-to-lose ambition and Curtis' more machiavellian vision.

In contrast, the second half fragments into separate and less compelling narratives, the major characters navigating different trajectories. Effie struggles to rediscover herself; Jimmy Early spirals towards the industry's scrapheap, his love life competing with his career for wreckage awards; Curtis and Deena are wealthy beyond their dreams but also increasingly miserable, his attempts to turn her into a movie star a stuck-in-place sideshow. Happily, most of the threads are gathered up in time for the rousing final show. 

The cast finds a pleasing balance between acting and singing talent, with Eddie Murphy a standout presence. Jennifer Hudson's committed singing sometimes crosses over into barely controlled shouting, but overall the performance numbers, while numerous, are kept reasonably short. Jamie Foxx provides a business-focused anchor, and the cast also includes Danny Glover as Early's old-fashioned first manager. 

Dreamgirls is a dream-big-but-beware-the-pitfalls story, familiar for sure but attractively mounted with an abundance of glamour and glitter.

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