The Greatest Song Ever Filmed
By Keith Boykin
It happens about 20 or 30 minutes into the movie. That's when it hits you that you're watching a classic film. With a hit Broadway pedigree and an all-star cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose, Dreamgirls was headed for success from the day it began filming.
But because the bar had been set so high from the Broadway production, the movie could have been a disastrous folly. Fortunately for fans, it is not.
Dreamgirls not only lives up to the hype, it also exceeds many of the expectations and answers some of the critics' toughest questions. Can Beyonce act? Yes. Can Jennifer Hudson sing "And I Am Telling You"? Yes. Does Eddie Murphy still have it? Yes. And can Jamie Foxx appear on screen for two hours without being annoying? Well, yes.
The movie follows the story line of the Broadway musical, a fictionalized account of the rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes. The Dreams sign up with manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), who helps them launch their career as backup singers for James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy). Eventually, the group outgrows Early and they become stars in their own right.
Meanwhile, conflict arises between pretty girl Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles) and big girl Effie White (Jennifer Hudson).
When Effie gets bounced from the group, she storms onto stage and confronts her cohorts in the classic dramatic confrontation that sets up the most memorable song of the musical.
The set up itself is brilliantly constructed, raising the level of anticipation for Hudson's performance of Jennifer Holliday's classic song. From the first few soft notes, you realize that Hudson has slightly re-interpreted the song, but it's a tour de force performance nonetheless.
The screening audience of media insiders and New York taste makers erupted in spontaneous applause in the movie theater when Hudson finished singing the signature song. If there was any doubt before that performance, Hudson made it known that she is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, for all the attention on Deena Jones, the musical is all about the rise and fall and rise again of Effie White, and Hudson appropriately steals the show in scene after scene.
Despite all the criticism of the casting decisions, in hindsight the cast seems perfect. Beyonce was born to play the role of Deena Jones, Hudson owned the role of Effie White, and all the other principal characters were right on the mark.
Jamie Foxx was excellent as the business-minded Curtis Taylor, a character based on the career of Motown founder Barry Gordy. Also impressive, Eddie Murphy was believable as the womanizing, drug-abusing James "Thunder" Early. Even Danny Glover cast a sympathetic figure in his supporting role as Early's first manager Marty Madison.
Director Bill Condon, who was present at the December 20, 1981 opening night of the original Broadway show at New York's Imperial Theater, successfully transforms the Broadway musical into a mostly convincing movie musical. Except for one or two scenes where the singing seems out of place with the narrative, for the most part the musical elements are blended effortlessly into the story.
Also noteworthy, the costume designer deserves an Academy Award nomination, if not an outright Oscar, for the period clothing that was created. The Dreams' outfits alone were incredible, but the outfit that Beyonce wore in the scene were Deena walks into Curtis Taylor's office was amazing.
Dreamgirls is an ambitious project, but it is one of those ambitious projects where the creators got it right.
This movie will be the biggest and most important black film since The Color Purple. You will see it many times over the course of your life, and tomorrow's generations will surely appreciate it for the classic that it is.
Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at Keithboykin.com
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