Reviewed by: Chris

A dream date movie, Dreamgirls offers to fulfil your fantasies and, if this is the type of movie you dream about, maybe it will.

A film version based on a stage musical's original book, Dreamgirls scales the octaves of anonymity to eminence for an African-American girl group, amid Sixties racial turmoil.

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Just looking at the publicity photos may have persuaded you that the film is a sight for sore eyes. Lavish sets and costumes, fabulous choreography and the lighting and razzamatazz associated with the best stage musicals, all exploding onto the big screen with a grandeur that can banish thoughts of anything else. Two powerful lead singers (Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson) to amaze you with their vocal range, and the sort of blockbuster publicity that makes going to see it almost an obligatory cultural event.

Dreamgirls is intense, emotion-ladened eye candy, but will it satisfy your every wish?

Curtis Taylor Jr (Jamie Foxx) is a car salesman, bursting to get into the music business as a forward-looking manager at a time when the industry is about to change. At a local talent show, he hears The Dreamettes - young, full of ability, but not getting the breaks. He finds them a spot as backing singers for James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy), who’s blend of soul and rock 'n' roll is at its height, but times are a-changin' and soon the girls are re-launched as The Dreams, while Early's career begins to fade. A few jealousies and heave-hoes later and they rocket to success.

Dreamgirls relies on well-established techniques, seen on MTV and writer/director Bill Condon's earlier success, Chicago – he wrote the screenplay - to ratchet up emotional intensity. A song will start low key in an ordinary setting and modest musical backing and then segue visually through more extravagant sets until it reaches a climax with full orchestra and bright lights. At times, this feels like watching a stage show. The devices are effective, but formulaic to the point of being hackneyed. Also, many of the songs sound like standard written-for-Broadway numbers, contorted lyrics being used to tell the story and express the feelings that the players expect us to share.

The plot has little substance beyond the songs and the posturing that goes with them, but this matters little if you want to be entertained in a way that demands no long/deep attention span, or if you want to nip out for more popcorn, or even turn away for a canoodle until the volume tells you to come up for air. The inclusion of many set stage productions, as The Dreams go on tour, enables ample opportunity for show stopping dance sequences, fabulous lighting and costumes to die for.

The film showcases two discoveries. One is that Murphy can work outside of comedy and the other is the remarkable talent of Hudson, a failed competitor on TV's American Idol, who demonstrates that she can stop you in your tracks as an actor as well as a singer.

But having Hudson and Beyonce together has its problems as well as its benefits. Both are remarkable singers in their separate styles, which has relevance to the story, since there is a certain rivalry between their characters, but in a movie about a girl band that is meant to evoke images of groups like The Supremes, they are one diva too many. The songs show off their incredible, individual vocal talents, but as leads rather than back up. At times, it is like having two high-intensity Aretha Franklins advertising the Dolby sound dynamics, rather than The Ronettes, The Stylistics or The Supremes soothing your eardrums. The film is about a group, yet focuses almost entirely on its two strongest singers. In the absence of a story with any depth, characters with substance, or a worthier tribute to an era that had more originality than this big budget production, I longed for a gentle ballad.

Dreamgirls contains all the talent that money can buy. It has more Oscar nominations in its year than any other movie, but none of them in the major categories. So sad, but it lacks true greatness.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2007
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A fictionalised, all singing, all dancing biopic of The Supremes and the rise of Motown Records.
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Read more Dreamgirls reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

Director: Bill Condon

Writer: Bill Condon, based on the book byTom Eyen

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Sharon Leal, Hinton Battle, Mariah I Wilson, Yvette Cason

Year: 2006

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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