3 stars out of 5
I saw Dreamgirls when it first opened on Broadway in late 1981, but I didn't love it, despite the energy and voice of the then next-big-thing, Jennifer Holliday, in the central role of Effie. When I saw this film's trailer many months ago, I didn't think Dreamgirls would be high on my must-see list. And - no surprise - when I finally saw Dreamgirls, it elicited the same middling response. Perhaps I am just tired of slick musical biopics and their mostly one-dimensional characterizations of all-too-familiar, none-too-appealing performers. Maybe adding the stagy quality of a Broadway musical (why are they singing?) is the extra dampening factor on film. Or possibly it's the overwrought, histrionic singing that becomes wearying over two hours (I was checking my watch after thirty minutes). Dreamgirls - telling the story of the launch of The Supremes and Motown Records - is not without its appeal. The new next-big-thing, "American Idol" loser Jennifer Hudson, is a powerhouse and engaging - though physically awkward - as Effie. Eddie Murphy atones for the years of Pluto Nash and Dr. Doolittle and resurrects a career with a stunning and potent performance that channels James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Jackie Wilson. Beyonce Knowles has scenes where she is a picture-perfect Diana Ross, and the period costumes and set designs are both amusing and striking. But the highs don't offset enough lows to make Dreamgirls more than slightly better-than-average entertainment.
[ed. note: Vicki, Rae and I never saw the play, but enjoyed the movie. I have to say, it was a bit weird to watch an all-black cast in a major movie with a largely black audience. Just doesn't happen to me that often.]