Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
A movie about a Motown girl group? Hell yeah, I’m in. Risking everything for fame, interpersonal drama, sweet soul tunes… what could go wrong?
There is nothing I don’t like about this image.
I was going to say that Dreamgirls suffers from a lot of the formulaic problems most musician biopics do (rising up from nothing, sexy tension among bandmates, and anything else seen in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), but hold up, is this even a biopic? It’s supposedly based on the life and times of the Supremes, but why they decided to change all the names and go their own way, I do not know. I mean, biopics fudge shit all the time; unless this ends with the Sup—excuse me, the Dreams building a spaceship and fighting a dragon, I don’t see the point of not telling me cool historical facts about Diana Ross and Co.
Spoiler: they fight a manticore, actually.
And yet, here we are, following Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, and The Third One (hey, she doesn’t get a billing on the poster or the DVD cover, so don’t tell me I’m the mean one) as they work their way to pop superstardom in an America that hates black music on the radio. It’s neat to see them find ways to get airtime, it’s exceptionally dramatic when one of them gets completely dicked over, and then… there’s still an hour left.
Okay, let’s… check out the Seventies, I guess?
Truth be told, I was interested in the first act on the premise alone, the second act had some crazy drama, but by the third act I just utterly stopped giving a shit. Partly because a band breaking up is way more engaging than a band getting back together, and partly because I know how pop music works and nothing is popular forever?
All hail Queen Bey and all that, but let’s face it, Beyoncé as Deena Jones pretty much just feels like Beyoncé in every movie. Nice set of pipes, lovely smile, fierceness for days, but any scene where she wasn’t singing I tuned right the hell out.
See also: Goldmember.
One thing I knew going into this movie was that Jennifer Hudson won a damn Oscar for this flick, which seems insane considering it’s her first film role, but you know what, deserved. Jennifer brings real heartfelt emotion to every note that erupts from Effie White’s throat, and you know I hate it when a musical pushes vocal talent over feelings. I’m amazed that an actual contestant from American Idol isn’t guilty of American Idol-ing.
Bring it, Jenny.
The Third One is okay.
Aww, come on, her name is Anika Noni Rose and she acts and sings just fine.
Jamie Foxx does a solid job as the slick record exec Curtis Taylor, Jr. pushing the Dreams into the hands and ears of everyone he can.
Now I ain’t sayin’ he a gold (record) digger…
And, hoping to join Jennifer Hudson in the Shiny Statue Club but missing the mark, there’s Eddie Murphy as sexed-up soul singer Jimmy “Thunder” Early. To be honest, I wouldn’t say he needs an Oscar for essentially expanding “James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party” from an SNL sketch to a feature-length film, but I would say that his character is fun as fuck.
*Axel Foley laugh*
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
We’ve got another flick with too damn many songs in it (31 by this count), so I’m going to play a little game and rattle off just the ones I remember. Possibly to make a point, but also so I can skip at least half of them. First up is the Dreams’ opening gig (back when they were the Dreamettes), “Move,” which is catchy and really showcases Hudson’s ass-kicking voice.
Yeah, move over, Queen Bey.
If you’re me, wondering if musicians performing on stages is technically a musical, “Fake Your Way to the Top” at least covers, you know, one of the themes of the movie, so there. It’s got plenty of Eddie’s soulful hollers, grunts, and footwork and I really wish he had his own concert special or something because I am feeling the Thunder.
Will it make me wet? (Yeah!)
One of the sneaky tactics to make these black singers famous is to give away a free single called “Cadillac Car” with the purchase of every… some kind of vehicle, I forget which. The original song is pure pop with a soul groove, but what really sticks in your mind is the terrible rip-off white-bread version.
Ha. Ha ha. HA HA HA.
The first true “people are singing and there’s no way there’s a band around” musical number is “Steppin’ to the Bad Side,” which Jamie Foxx starts singing in an alley in reference to his shady dealings, but it morphs into a hit for Jimmy over the course of a montage.
“No time, let’s Rocky IV this shit!”
Let’s see, I think Effie gets a love song, and Jimmy does more stuff… oh, there’s a song called “Family” about how they’re all in this together and whatnot, that’s kinda nice. But also a little creepy and overbearing.
So, like a family.
Then the Dreams sing the titular “Dreamgirls” which is a sugary sweet song about them being the girls you’ll see in your dreams tonight and they’ll do anything you want and they’re all yours, take them home and lock them in your basement and do terrible terrible—
Okay, maybe I’m inferring subtext that was never there.
“Heavy” is a song about getting fat.
Aww, come on, you guys.
And then… fucking brace yourself… after a spat with the rest of the group, Effie is confronted in song with “It’s All Over,” and she belts back like you wouldn’t believe “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” The song is BIG, Jennifer’s voice is BIG, her emotions are BIG, the whole scene is just a punch in the gut. It is the definition of a showstopper.
Good GOD, stand back, everybody, you’re in the blast zone.
And here’s the problem with that showstopper… it’s a showmiddler. Really, this is only the halfway point of the film. And it is just too good. Nothing after that can top it from a musical or emotional standpoint. And that’s why I’m confessing to you that from there on, I can recall, like, maybe two other songs? One is when Jimmy goes off the set list and improvises a rap on live TV…
It’s pretty great, but it’s no “Boogie In Your Butt.”
…and the other is one of Effie’s songs that gets stolen and turned into a disco hit and I honestly can’t think of a single word from the chorus, let me check my notes… ah, “One Night Only.”
I’ll remember it none nights only.
And maybe some reprises? I dunno, this movie has a severe second half problem. Meet me in Final Thoughts.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Quick detour, the majority of the lyrics in Dreamgirls are wonderful, upbeat throwbacks to Motown pop, which is why an invocation of the Dark Lord Beelzebub during “Move” is my winner for the weirdest line…
“You are so horribly satanic, the way you always lead me around…”
Dreamgirls has catchy songs and plenty of vocal and acting talent, but it has pretty glaring structure issues. The first half of the film seems like a complete arc that ends on a big tragic finish, and the second half makes no attempt to keep up musically to compensate for the dwindling story. Still, it’s a very entertaining film. Watch it once, enjoy yourself, then move move move it right out of your life.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)