Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Dreamgirls (Bill Condon, 2006) Think "The Color Purple" in sequined gowns and moved north to Motown and you've got it in a nutsell. Or the story of "The Supremes" but without the good music. I've always liked the material provided Motown's premiere girl-group (the singer, not the song/the singer, not the song) even though they were vamping cross-gendered "Pip's," but I've always had a feeling like chewing aluminum foil when it comes to uber-diva Diana Ross. In fact the only concert I'd kept a record of was the one in Central Park that was interrupted by a freak thunderstorm of such magnitude that New Yorkers started leaving in throngs (cabs and coaches being presumably unavailable), while the rain-pelted, wind-whipped Ross was exhorting "Please! Stay! Just sing with me! It'll blow over! " (It didn't. Sometimes reality can overwhelm ego) That one always gave me a chuckle. Poor drenched Diana. Nobody loved her enough to risk electrocution. Musta been hard.

So to see a fictionalized version of their story, even one not to Ms. Ross' liking, might have had some sort of crass-enjoyment to it. But the songs have none of the agressive bop of Motown pop, the conceit of songs in concert/songs as commentary doesn't work and most of the performances try to trudge through the treacle unsuccessfully. Who'd have thought that Beyonce, child of Mariah, born of Whitney, out of Diana would prove to be such a non-entity on-screen, even when the movie is made to order for her. And the very talented Jamie Foxx can't play a bad guy when all his life he has sung like a good guy. It is his sorry fate to be cast as "Mister" splitting up the women, then banished to inconsequence when we end with The Big Reunion.

But...the things that make the movie watchable and of any interest at all are Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy. Hudson won the Oscar for the over-wrought "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," but her bad-attitude acting and her quieter singing are what really make you miss her when she's off-screen. And Murphy proves that, despite the schlock that he's attached his name to, he's a man of unqualified gifts. His fictionalized riff on James Brown shows the athleticism, the brio, the stage-power and the inherent puffery of "A Hardest Working Man in Show Business." Not a false or contrived-cute note in that performance. And he sings good, too. He shoulda won that Oscar.

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