As a Broadway musical Dreamgirls was a thinly veiled version of the rise to stardom of The Supremes and the lengths Motown Records chief Berry Gordy went to achieve that success. The new movie version, however, does away with any pretence and tells of the behind-the-scenes power struggle which led to Diana Ross becoming a great star and saw fellow Supreme, Florence Ballard, pushed aside. The only thing really different in the movie story is the names have all been changed.
By and large director Bill Condon, the Oscar-winning writer of Gods And Monsters, Chicago and writer-director of Kinsey, has done an extraordinary job with this $75 million dollar movie. The first hour of Dreamgirls is a rollercoaster ride of colour, music and movement which sweeps the audience up in the story of the three young girls of band The Dream, and the ambitious manager Curtis (Jamie Foxx) who sees their potential -“ if only he can put the thin and pretty Deena (Beyonce Knowles) out front and take the brilliant but overweight Effie (Jennifer Hudson) to the background.
But once the character of Effie is pushed aside, the movie loses its focus. The story goes off on a number of tangents in its second hour which only add extra baggage and time to the original solid stage story.
What carries the film, however, are the outstanding lead performances. Newcomer Hudson is electrifying in her star-making role as Effie, with her volcanic tour de force number, And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, the highlight of the movie.
Knowles as the Diana Ross-styled Deena is very good as a woman conflicted by her lack of confidence and the chance to live out her own dreams at the expense of her best friend. Anika Noni Rose, as the Mary Wilson character Lorelle, offers some of the film’s sexiest and funniest asides.
Murphy is stunning as the wild man of rock James Early and reveals an edge to his talent not previously seen. But Murphy is the only one of the male cast to deliver a good performance, with Jamie Foxx uncomfortable as Curtis, Danny Glover lacklustre as Early’s agent and Keith Robinson as songwriter CC woefully inadequate.
Dreamgirls is solid entertainment and certainly not the disaster of other recent screen musicals, like The Producers and Phantom Of The Opera. But it’s also not in the same league of excellence as Chicago. Dreamgirls is instead an uneven movie, with a sensational first half and a second half that unfortunately never lives up to that promise.