The Reeler


December 15, 2006


Despite best intentions, Broadway adaptation resembles variety show with too many hollow acts

The buzz is officially hurting my ears, or maybe that ringing is a result of hearing the disco chorus to "One Night Only" every time I turn on the television. Either way, I'm bound to take some abuse for being a real holiday Scrooge and saying I don't think Dreamgirls is particularly good. I like musicals, and yes, I hoped and even expected to be as giddy as the critical mass, who have proclaimed it to be this season's sacred cowbell. A predominantly African-American cast, jittery jazz hands near-constantly waving, show-stopping solos that tell a story infamously modeled after the troubled rise of The Supremes... Dreamgirls sounds toe-tappingly fresh on paper, and yet I was so bored and unaffected that I barely remember watching it.

Adapted by Kinsey director Bill Condon from the 1981 Broadway hit, Dreamgirls is a superficially calculated crowd-pleaser, so hopped up on Red Bull and snorted glitter that it strives for little more than to out-razzle dazzle Rob Marshall's Chicago. I'm of the camp that thinks that 2002 Best Picture Oscar winner was equally bland, and worse, suffers from some of the sloppiest, un-Fosse-worthy editing in the genre. Condon penned functional screenplays for both films, but his direction here is much more coherent and limber than Marshall's, allowing the timeline to seamlessly breeze past the early '60s on through the '70s.

Leaving aside its overeager reliance on montages as a quick-fix shortcut to narrative momentum, Dreamgirls is still the lesser of the two movie musicals. The ace up Chicago's sleeve was that killer Bob Fosse score, jumping with life and memorable hooks, while here we are left with Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's strangely flat, ineffective fusion of R&B-lite and plot-driven lyrics of the stage-standard strain. None of the numbers really sound like Motown, or even Broadway, and in scaling back the ambition of the original show by having dialogue spoken instead of mostly sung (a technique that worked to charming effect in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), Dreamgirls most closely resembles an overcooked variety show with too many hollow acts on the schedule.

Beyond the two deluxe CD's worth of forgettable melodies, there's still a story to be told and a dream cast that's getting oodles of media attention, but why? Instant superstar du jour Jennifer Hudson has an impressive set of pipes, maybe even deserving of the clapping heard throughout the press screening I attended, but there's nothing heartfelt in her Florence Ballard-ish cautionary tale of a self-destructive songbird whose ego can't cope when her Rubenesque figure forces her into the background. Beyoncé Knowles is an apt choice as the hot young thing who takes the spotlight and becomes the trophy wife to sleazy manager Jamie Foxx (in a rather disappointing caricature of megalomania), and the other girls in the Dreamettes-cum-Dreams are placeholders with little personality to tell them apart.

That leaves comeback kid Eddie Murphy to save the day, as Condon's attempts to align the backstage intrigues with the racial issues and Detroit-on-fire history of the day are an afterthought at best. As the fading soul singer James "Thunder" Early, Murphy savors the task of hauling out his James Brown SNL routine, and playing it with a straight, hangdog face. It pretty much works, but only as pure, light-as-a-bubble entertainment. Even his hot-tub heat still couldn't shake the emotional chill Dreamgirls left with me.

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Comments (3)

We're all entitled to our opinions. I completely disagree with yours. As someone who has seen the play and the movie, both were extremely entertaining. Reading your review, it is difficult to believe that we saw the same movie.

This movie was the most disappointing one that I have seen in a long time. The storyline is choppy, the acting is talentless and the same old Motown cliche moview which we have seen a dozen times. Those movies like the Five Heartbeats, The Little Richard story and other were way better. This movie got audiences in by dropping A-list actors and that's what makes it even more horrid.

I thought it kind of sucked. As I walked out of the theatre, I said to my friend, "wow, that must have been three hours ! " I then looked at my cell phone and realized it had only been a little over 2 hours, ugh !!! I enjoyed the last 30 mins of the film, though I really felt no compassion for the Deena character and did not care what happened to her. The disco scene for "One Night Only" was the high point for me, a child of the 70's. Those women certainly know how to shake their booties. wow

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