Cast: Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Hudson, Keith Robinson, Bobby Slayton
Director: Bill Condon
SUNY Purchase '05
"I don't compromise my values and I don't compromise my work. I won't give in." -Michael Moore
Review By: Rocco Passafuime
Dreamgirls became one of the most popular new Broadway musicals of the 1980's. From the very start, there was ambition to turn it into a film adaptation, but its seemingly massive scope and breadth made the execution almost impossible and was put in development hell for 25 years.
However, in 2002, the film adaptation of Chicago raised the bar for what could be possible in combining film elements with a predominantly stage-based musical numbers. Bill Condon, the film's screenwriter, refines this novel approach and takes the helm as both writer and director of the long-awaited film adaptation of Dreamgirls, now available on DVD.
In the 1960's, the Dreamettes, made up of the shy and beautifully feathery Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles), the vocally dynamic Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), and the chipper background-blending Lorell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), was a struggling Detroit R&B group looking for a break. After losing in a talent competition, charismatic car salesman-turned-fledgling record producer Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) takes them under his wing.
Taylor first positions the talented ingénues as background singers for the dynamically wild R&B sensation James "Thunder"Â Early (Eddie Murphy). However, Curtis sees bigger and better potential for his fledgling acts.
He has Early dump his long time manager Marty Madison (Danny Glover) and polish out his sound to appeal to the white-bread mainstream, as well as acquire Effie's brother, C.C. (Keith Robinson), as his principal co-songwriter. Curtis also reforms the girls into a headlining group called The Dreams, with the more glamorous and vocally benign Deena as the lead singer.
While The Dreams become a pop sensation, Effie begins to resent her belittled background status and is soon forced out of the group after butting heads continuously with Taylor. Soon enough, Curtis's Rainbow Records turns into a multimillion dollar empire and Deena Jones soon overshadows The Dreams as a pop megastar.
However, by the 1970's, turmoil ensues as the musically watered-down Early becomes crippled by drugs, the ousted Effie becomes alcoholic and destitute, trying to taking care of her daughter conceived with the record mogul, and Deena begins to feel trapped in Curtis's tightly-reined professional and personal grip.
Dreamgirls is nothing if not a dazzling and extremely ambitious musical. The story is a grand and multi-tiered fictionalized pastiche of both the rise of Motown Records and R&B's crossing over into the fickle, MOR world of white-bread American 1960's and 1970's pop in general.
The great story is boosted even further by an incredibly fantastic, first-rate cast. Jamie Foxx equally charms and deceives as the Berry Gordy-inspired Curtis Taylor Jr., while Beyonce Knowles is perfectly cast as the elegant and glamorous, yet emotionally fluffy Diana Ross-inspired Deena Jones.
The always incredibly dynamic Eddie
But the real surprise of this film is American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson in her extraordinarily show-stopping film debut. Her Best Supporting Actress Oscar win was well-deserved as not only does she prove herself instantly adept at doing dialogue, but she proves to be an extraordinarily gifted performer and vocalist during the musical numbers. Her abilities here are a great vindication that she was destined for far greater things than any hollow accolades from the musically MOR and shallow world of Idol.
The Dreamgirls film does manage to succeed mostly in compressing its lofty story of racism, greed, and the cold-heartedly capitalistic world of the music business into something consistently entertaining. However, a few of the songs suffer from being a bit generic, a few of the transitions from dialogue to song come out a bit awkward when shown in the realm of film, and the film is so labored that despite all the thrills, it does get a bit exhausting by the final stretch.
The DVD's picture quality is presented in the 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, with the sound quality in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1. Both of the DVD's are generously packed with an abundance of special features.
The first disc contains 12 extended or alternate versions of the musical numbers performed, which is a real treat for fans who want to see a performance of a particular musical number in its complete and undiluted form. A few of the scenes were deleted musical numbers, one called "I am Somebody"Â, performed by Beyonce Knowles and another called "Effie, Sing My Song"Â, sung by Jennifer Hudson and Keith Robertson.
The addition of these number would have slowed down the already lengthy final film even further, but is great to watch in this context, particularly "Effie, Sing My Song"Â for anyone wanting to see the more of the talented Hudson vocal performances. Rounding out the first disc is the music video for the film soundtrack's single "Listen"Â from Beyonce, which is the performance footage of her singing is a bit disappointing in its simplicity.
The bulk of Disc 2 is a lavish two-hour documentary titled Building The Dream, that ambitiously covers the film's conception, filming, and execution from start to finish. It also features great behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew.
Dream Logic: Film Editing is a featurette that focuses on the process of editing the film. It contains interviews with editor Virginia Katz and others, who discuss how she dealt with the arduous task of stitching the final cut of the film.
Dressing The Dreams: Costume
Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting delves into how the lighting was done for the stage numbers Interviewed here are theatrical lighting designers Jules Fischer and Peggy Eisenhauer, who discuss how they attempted to capture the essence of the live stage on film.
Also featured are various auditions and screen tests, which are a real treat to see how some of the performers came on board for the film. Beyonce Knowles's screen test is by far the most elaborate and the most ambitious of any ever publicly seen.
Anika Noni Rose's audition is noteworthy for displaying her power as a performer to adequately equal Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Hudson. Also, Fatima Robinson provides her choreography audition with her energetic team of performers demonstrating her skills to the number "Steppin' To The Bad Side"Â.
The Previsualization Sequences show each musical number set to montages of the rough sketches for each part of the scene. Rounding out the special features on the second disc is an extensive image gallery.
The Storyboards section show each musical number set to montages of the storyboards for each part of the scene. The Costume Design, Production Design, and Art Department Archive allow you to personally scroll through each department's conception sketches.
While the film's lofty ambitions often feels very heavy-handed and not every move transcends well from stage to screen, Dreamgirls is a fantastically entertaining and ingeniously-conceived fictional reverence to the peaks and pitfalls of the era of Motown.
The story is buoyed by a dazzling production and a phenomenal cast that all perform beautifully. The DVD is a must-own for the film's hardcore fans, as it's provided with an abundance of special features that will keep you engaged long after multiple viewings of the film itself.
Movie Grade: A
DVD Features Grade: A+
Overall Grade: A+