When Jennifer Hudson was voted off of American Idol during the 2004 season, my mother and I were so devastated that we vowed to never watch the show again. Of course, the AI addiction is too strong to beat cold turkey, so we tuned in again the following week, but we remained faithful to our fallen diva, hoping that she would one day receive the recognition she deserved.
To our glee, Jennifer Hudsons moment of glory has finally arrived with the role of a lifetime, Effie in Dreamgirls, a character made famous in the Broadway version by Jennifer Holliday. Ms. Hudson has large shoes to fill, but the 25-year-old singer with a voice that will make your hair stand on end is causing a stir in Hollywood. She has received a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Effie, and the audience at the theater where I saw the film yesterday was more enthusiastic than any other cinema crowd Ive ever been a part of.
According to newspaper reviews, audiences are staying for the credits just to cheer when Jennifers name comes up. In Boston, the sold-out crowd burst into cheers twice during the films signature number, And I Am Telling You (Im Not Going). There are not enough adjectives in the world to describe Jennifers performance of this song. She sings it with a perfect combination of gusto and pain. I dont know how she pulls off sassy and wounded simultaneously, but somehow she does. You just have to see it.
Jennifer Hudsons voice is so soulful and beautiful that it gives me goose bumps every time she opens her mouth. I felt like I was on the verge of tears for the entire second half of the film.
But enough about Jennifer (for now)
Dreamgirls was a successful Broadway musical during the 1980s about a 1960s girl-group, loosely based on The Supremes. Bill Condon (Kinsey) did a wonderful job adapting Dreamgirls for the screen as the costumes, dance moves, and musical arrangements appeal to a younger crowd, but the film retains a theatrical quality. It is mainly a non-integrated musical (the characters rarely burst into song to advance the plot), but the songs that the characters sing are used to express their innermost feelings.
The first song that the Dreams sing at a talent competition in their hometown of Detroit is the spunky Move. Much like Beyonce's current hit, Irreplaceable, its a strong declaration of independence. Naturally, the best singer in the group, Effie White (Hudson), sings lead. She shakes her full hips and belts out the tunes. The Dreams are young and innocent but full of pride. When they are approached by manager Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx) with an offer to sing back-up for James Thunder Early (Eddie Murphy), Effie declares We dont do back up. Curtis changes Effies mind through flattery, and the girls hit the road.
Soon enough, the money-obsessed Curtis realizes that the Dreams can be successful as headliners but only if Deena (Beyonce Knowles) sings lead. Anyone can see that Effie has the more powerful voice, but Deena (like Diana Ross on whom shes based) is thinner, prettier, and more marketable. Curtis believes that the Dreams can cross over to the pop (white) market with Deena as the front woman.
Effie is the most obvious victim of Curtiss ambition, but her brother C.C. (Keith Robinson, who is nearly as adorable as his on-screen sister), a talented composer, also suffers as Curtis takes all the soul out of the C.C.s songs to try to make them hits. Similarly, James Early isnt allowed to be himself and begins to turn to drugs to ease his pain.
The main flaw in Dreamgirls is the pacing. I felt that Eddie Murphys James Early character is on screen too much. Whenever the film focuses on Early or Curtis, it feels like Condon is just filling time between Deena and Effies numbers. Although Murphy can actually sing*, I didnt enjoy his songs very much, and I just kept wishing that the Dreams (especially Effie) would come back. The third Dream, Lorell (Anika Noni Rose) is adorable and gets a few humorous lines, but she doesnt get to sing much.
Foxx and Murphy give admirable performances, but Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce ultimately carry this movie. Beyonce really gets to strut her stuff during the second half of the film. She wears dozens of dazzling outfits and makeup styles and is mesmerizingly beautiful. Vocally, she certainly holds her own, as well. I got chills during Deenas signature song, Listen, and her rendition of One Night Only is impressive, too.
If youre looking to hear the Motown sound on screen, you wont find it in Dreamgirls. The songs are Broadway-ized interpretations of '60s and '70s R&B.
Watching Jennifer Hudson dazzle on the big screen was the best Christmas present ever. I cant wait to watch it again.
* For a real laugh, check out Eddie Murphys comedic R&B song from the '80s, Boogie in Your Butt.
** Epinions won't let me put the accent at the end of Beyonce's name. Sorry, Ms. Knowles.
Update (12/31): I saw Dreamgirls again last night. It's even better the second time.
Update (1/16): Jennifer Hudson won a well-deserved Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Effie White. Congrats, Jennifer!
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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