The Motown movie that starts at a rush and never lets up
Dreamgirls (12A.) Directed by Bill Condon. Starring Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover. 131 mins Three star rating This film starts in a rush and never lets up as it hurtles through its fairy-tale
Directed by Bill Condon. Starring Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover. 131 mins
Three star rating
This film starts in a rush and never lets up as it hurtles through its fairy-tale version of the story of Motown records and the rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes. There's not a dull moment in Condon's (Gods And Monsters, Kinsey) adaptation of the Broadway musical. And, when the movie ends, you may be surprised that a full two hours 10 minutes have flown by. It feels like 30 minutes less.
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It's a great if superficial entertainment - a frantic coach tour round the main sights but with little time to really take them in.
The score is an instantly likeable but not particularly memorable mix of soul and R'n'B forged into show tunes.
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A theme of the piece is how Motown supremo Berry Gordy, here represented by the character Curtis Taylor (Foxx, his face set to villain), stripped the raw soul out of black music to make it accessible for white audiences. And Eddie Murphy's James Thunder Early is a composite of numerous Motown male performers who had the R'n'B siphoned out of their performance. It's a legitimate view but it doesn't give Motown its dues as the originator of some of the finest pop music ever. Dreamgirls' score is very enjoyable and accessible. But there's nothing to match the simple joy of a classic Holland-Dozier-Holland composition.
The main thrust of the narrative is to rectify the great historical injustice done to the other two Supremes, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, sidelined for an arguably lesser talent. Beyonce plays the Ross figure, Deanna, who is picked out for stardom and romance by Taylor when he takes over managing the Dreamettes. Meanwhile, the original lead, the slightly podgy Effie (Hudson) gets increasingly fed up with her supporting role.
The twist is that the movie reverses the injustice. While Hudson is being talked up for Oscars, Beyonce's starring role is getting overlooked.
Hudson certainly has an incredible voice. She gets to belt out the show stopper And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going and she goes at it with full gusto, lips quivering like an astronaut attempting to re-enter Earth's atmosphere at the wrong angle. She can send chills down your spine at the very same time you're begging her to ease up while there's still a little bit of life left clinging to the song.
Beyonce can match the Whitneys and Mariahs for vocal gymnastics but here she lets the singing serve the song, not vice versa. In Dreamgirls, she's like the collective dream of the perfect movie star - otherworldly beautiful, talented and ever so slightly vacant. In terms of pop stars turned movie stars, think Madonna and then go racing away as far as you can in the other direction.