Last Thursday down in Charlotte, I asked my family to watch Lydia so that Carol and I could go to the movies. Some folks wanted to invite themselves to come along, but I needed to uninvite them, as this was Carol’s and my monthly date.
I know quite a lot about (Diana Ross and the) Supremes and about Motown generally. But, aside from the hit song from Jennifer Holliday from a quarter century ago, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”, I knew relatively little about “Dreamgirls”, the popular musical, beyond what was widely known.
In the cover story in JET magazine about the new movie, the writer announces, “Most people think [it] is about …the Supremes. It is not.” Someone should have told director Bill Condon, for there were loads of stylistic touches that echoed Diana, Mary, Florence (and Cindy), starting with hairdos, costumes (The Dreams in Liverpool was spot-on) and the album covers. The homage to the Supremes album cover to the left is very prominent in a couple shots.
Still, this is ostensibly the story of Effie White (played here by seventh-place American Idol candidate Jennifer Hudson) was pushed aside as lead singer in favor of Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles) by record label owner Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx). The early scenes rang true, from the ersatz Motown Review to the music being co-opted by Pat Boone types. Where the movie lost me for a time was during a scene where several characters were singing to Effie, trying to keep her in the group in a lesser capacity. It felt like people singing in a musical, and I mean that in a bad way. Another scene, not much later, when Effie is thrown out of the group, I felt pretty much the same. I didn’t notice consciously, but my wife detected poor lip-synching, and maybe THAT was the problem.
However, right after that, Effie sings “And I’m Telling You”, which got thunderous applause in the theater I was in. It brought me back into the picture. Much of the next portion of the picture involved Deena and Curtis, the Berry Gordyesque character, blending late Supremes with early solo Diana Ross (movie career).
I should mention Eddie Murphy’s James “Thunder” Early was partially James Brown, but at least partially Marvin Gaye at the point he wanted to release “What’s Going On”, right down to the cap he wore, similar to the one Marvin has on the Let’s Get It On cover. His performance was very good, not the sometimes over the top schtick he sometimes engages in. The other performances were fine, although Foxx seemed to have a constant sneer.
The early awards suggest that Jennifer Hudson will be nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. I’m not sure that would be appropriate, since it is her character that is the emotional core of the picture. But the first time actress is excellent.
It was an enjoyable experience.
Tosy’s review. His assessment of applause I agree with totally.