Dreamgirls: Do believe the hype
Apologies for my long silence, but I’ve been out enjoying the city. Since they passed that law banning trans fats from restaurant fare by 2008, I’ve been on a suicide mission to gobble as much chow while these establishments can legally admit me. But I’ve also seen a couple films. Borat is a hoot and a half which I had to watch twice. Sick and smart and uproariously funny, don’t miss this one! I know I’m a little late on this review, but I’m early on the next.
I caught Dreamgirls last night at a special screening for industry big wigs at The William Morris Agency. As a part-time janitor there, I was able to sneak in for several of the big scenes. Though that’s a lie, there were several notables there, including the author of Midnight In The Garden of Good And Evil, Henry Krieger, who composed both the original score and the new tracks, and Anika Noni Rose, who is fab as the ditzy Dreamgirl Lorell Robinson.
Hollywood got this one right. They waited a long time for the film version of this musical, and this one’s worth the wait. It’s exciting, with tons of performances, costumes, sets, and lights. It’s a visual treat with a great story which doesn’t lag for a second. The casting is super, and Jennifer Hudson, who does the Jennifer Holliday role, is a joy and she steals the film, in her very first acting role! She’s just unbelievably sassy with a great set of pipes. No, she can’t touch J-Ho, but who can? I’d forgotten how fun the other tunes in the show were, and Eddie Murphy has a few bombastic moments, too. Keith Robinson as the songwriter C.C. White is very appealing and sings well. I’ll be getting the soundtrack.
As C.C., Keith Robinson sings one moving song called Family. I asked a show queen how Diane Ross felt about Dreamgirls, since the plot is essentially based on her career. Apparently, she was livid over the film and there was a well-publicized incident where Jennifer Holliday entered a resaurant that La Ross was dining in and Diana walked at the sight of her. (As did the kitchen staff! Just warming up!) But then Diana surprised everyone by singing Family at her Central Park concert. And that’s why it rained!
Beyonce is the only disappointment. She passes, but she is is certainly not charismatic as an actress. Like the Supremes, the Dreamettes hail from Detroit, yet inexplicably, Beyonce retains her Houston drawl. I rarely like her whiny (if powerful) singing voice anyway. According to an industry insider, musical directors for the film curtailed her incessant vocal riffing up and down the scale and made her stick to the melodies. (Remember Destiny’s Child’s unbearable cover of the Bee Gees’ Emotion?) But in order to be considered for an Oscar for best song, a film must include new music or it’s considered a revival, so Miss Knowles gets a new power ballad, called Listen. Though I don’t love the way her voice winds around notes, she can hit ’em (in whatever key her weird personal scale is in), but it was interesting that her new solo was the only tune NOT applauded by the hard-boiled audience of agents with which I viewed the film. And this is after we were plied with wine and gourmet popcorn (full of trans fats, no doubt) which we enjoyed from plush couches. (I was so relaxed that I shit myself on that last note of And I Am Telling You.)
At one point, when Beyonce tries to free herself from the Berry Gordy figure’s grip (well-acted by a sexy Jamie Foxx), he tells her something like "Your voice has no personality." To prove him wrong, she belts out Listen. This changes the plot considerably. Suddenly her voice has lots of personality? So why was it ever a mistake that Jamie’s character, Curtis Taylor, Jr., singled out slim Deena Jones over plus-sized Effie, with her gigantic voice? Makes no sense and it’s kind of a central theme, y’all. But you have to bow to Beyonce cuz she’ll sell tickets. That’s why no one informed her not to pronounce "Do this" as "Do dis." Was Diana Ross ever ghetto? OK, in public? How I wish that this project had been packaged for Whitney Houston 10-15 years ago. She can act and sing, and doesn’t need a whirlwind of MTV-style production numbers to wow you. Just a mic, thanks.
Also added are a couple of scenes I don’t recall from the original. (Though, admittedly, it’s been a coupla years since I saw the Broadway stageshow.) While having a tiff in the studio, Effie bolts out angrily and is followed by two-timing Curtis. They encounter a riot in the streets of Detroit. Oh yeah! Throw in a riot! A little fire and destruction/distraction. It’ll hold straight males attention if they see somebody getting hurt. At another point, we’ve hit the ’70s and Eddie wants to change things up by singing a message song. Curtis dismisses the idea because they need non-confrontational records which will sell. There’s kind of a black rights, civil rights moment which I don’t think belongs there. As much as I’d like to see people get more involved in decrying the world’s situation, this scenette feels unnecessary and out of place. There’s enough confrontation amongst the characters--you don’t need to throw this mess in for a second and then abandon it just as quickly without developing it.
Effie’s replacement is played by Sharon Leal, an elegant creature with a button nose who has already snagged a record deal with Universal Music. I wonder if Beyonce’s daddy was nervous about filming this beauty a little too close to Beyonce. (In fact, you have to give Beyonce points for appearing with no make-up and a dowdy wig in the early scenes to heighten her transition to glamorpuss. Before Beyonce is given the goddess treatment at which she excels, the other two Dreamettes are as attractive than the world’s premiere pop sex kitten. Apparently, Mr. Knowles insisted on giving Beyonce writing credit for one line she managed to insert into Listen. Hmmm. A girl group that axed two of its original members, replaced them with their knowledge and had the favored (by the ruthless svengali/manager) girl with inferior pipes take the lead and then go solo and do movies. The story of Destiny’s Child may well deserve it’s own Dreamgirls-style script. If Beyonce was dynamic enough, that is...