Opens Monday December 25 DREAMGIRLS directed by Bill Condon, written by Condon and Tom Eyen from Eyen and Henry Krieger's play, with Beyoncé Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson. 131 minutes. A Paramount Pictures film. For venues and times, see Movies, page 91. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
"Beyoncé jealous of Jennifer Hudson." "Hudson a lock for best actress."
Twenty years after its Tony-winning run on Broadway, Dreamgirls has been made into a movie, and before it's even hit the theatres the rumours are flying.
Dreamgirls is the story of a 60s Motown girl group's rise and fall, in which Effie, the girl with the voice (Hudson), gets usurped by the less talented beauty, Deena (Beyoncé Knowles).
Amidst all the Oscar speculation, sold-out screenings and supposed rivalries (not to mention the play's notoriety as a thinly disguised slap at the Supremes' Diana Ross), it's easy to get caught up in the hype and forget the one important question: is the movie any good? Answer? Good, yes; great, no.
True, on the one hand, the film is slick and well cast, boasting a star-making turn by American Idol also-ran Hudson and Eddie Murphy's assured comeback as James "Thunder" Early, a role that allows him to showcase his singing chops, comedic skills and dramatic talent.
In fact, the producers are so impressed by their film, they've submitted a For Your Consideration Oscar reel during the closing credits.
Unfortunately, what might be enough onstage rarely works onscreen see film versions of Rent, Phantom and The Producers for clarification. Yikes. On second thought, don't.
You'd expect more from writer/director Bill Condon, who penned best-picture-winner Chicago. That movie isn't flawless, true, but at least he and director Rob Marshall tried something new. Marshall brilliantly evaded the fourth wall problem by having the musical sequences take place in one character's imagination.
Condon has shot Dreamgirls as is, so the fourth wall is ever-present, making singing dialogue scenes and bizarre transitions even more problematic.
Most glaring among the questionable plot changes and song revisions is the new song Listen, sung by Deena to lover and shady manager Curtis (Jamie Foxx). It feels less like Deena reaching out to her mate than an opportunity to add a solo to prove that, though Hudson gets the best tunes, Beyoncé is the real star.
If that was the intent, it fails. Hudson easily outclasses her, not only when she belts out the classic And I Am Telling You, but in the acting department as well. Beyoncé looks beautiful and can definitely sing, but anyone lucky enough to have seen Sheryl Lee Ralph's Deena on Broadway knows Beyoncé's turn is missing all the fire, ambition and soul.
The same can be said for the movie.