Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online. He can be reached at claycane@gmail.com.


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    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    I have not seen this much eagerness for a film since the alleged Lloyd Banks and Diddy sex tape! Dreamgirls is the most anticipated movie of the year and probably the only film that will bond black heteros and gays in the same room. Armed with a powerhouse cast with the legendary Eddie Murphy, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, Tony winner Anaki Noni Rose and Grammy winner Beyonce Knowles, the star power is undeniable – not to mention the American Idol cast away Jennifer Hudson. As we all know Dreamgirls was originally a Broadway musical and has been playing musical chairs for twenty-five years until it finally landed in the hands of Bill Condon (Chicago, Kinsey). The film follows the recycled story of three girls from the ghetto who reach unimaginable success, but suffer racism, greed, and jealousy. The story is loosely based on the life of the iconic Diana Ross who has publicly spoke against the film because she is exhausted with “her story” garnering more profit than all of her albums from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s combined.


    Dreamgirls is a good movie, but it does not live up to the high-octane hype that has surrounded the heavy promotional tour. It is not a “religious experience,” Beyonce was not born to play the role of Deena Jones nor does it guarantee any of the newcomers a long lasting career (I do have high hopes for Anaki Noni Rose).
    Now if films like Soul Plane and Diary of a Mad Black Woman were artistic masterpieces to you then you might find Dreamgirls to be earth shattering.

    The flaws in Dreamgirls have less to do with the actors, and more to do with the chaotic and patchwork storyline from director Bill Condon. Sure, it is great to see black folks singing and dancing on screen, but quite early in the film it is obvious the characters are one dimensional paper dolls with no back story or motivation. The audience never discovers the character’s storyline or passion; all we know are the moments when they are ready to sing. For example, when Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx) suddenly dumps Effie White (Hudson) for Deena Jones (Knowles) it happens one minute in a dressing room. Despite mild flirting, there is no build-up, or logical sign that Curtis wanted to bang out Deena, or that Deena would have the audacity to deceive her best friend who has supposedly been her protector. These sketchy moments are littered throughout the over two-hour epic, which forces the film to stand alone on the musical performances – the musical performances are powerful, entertaining and a needed lifesaver, but not enough to declare the film a musical.

    One might argue, “Well, if Dreamgirls is a musical isn’t it enough for the musical sequences to be outstanding?” Dreamgirls is not really a musical. A good forty minutes travels with no musical sequences and only mild hints that you will soon see an actual musical. Condon admitted this in my interview with him, “There are little moments that subliminally get you ready forit. But it’s not until 40 minutes in, when Jennifer sings ‘What About What I Feel.’ Idid want to set up a world where you understand they’re performers and you’re insuch a musical world, you hope they can accept it at that point.”

    Many might argue forty minutes flying by and no musical scenes would mean the film is not a “musical.” A musical consists of chorography, elaborate stage productions and more singing than dialogue. When one thinks of musicals that were films you think of Rent, Grease, Chicago and EvitaDreamgirls is far from that. Therefore, when Condon has to survive on the storyline of the black female experience he seems to focus on all glamour and no plot. For example, in one scene race riots breakout, in another there are quick clips of racial tensions and newspaper headlines – it feels out of place and trite, as if Condon just tossed it in there to satisfy the race relations topic, which was a huge issue in the play. Another example, when Murphy’s character has a drug addiction it is dealt with in such an “ABC After School Special” manner that you never become emotionally invested in his addiction, or his recovery.

    About half way through the movie seems to be falling to shambles, scattering all over the screen – predictable plot, choppy scenes, little music sequences, some comic relief... then
    Jennifer Hudson saves the day with what we have all been waiting for -- “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going).” The track is obviously prerecorded, (I wonder if she can sing the song live and curious to why on the promotional tour she has done no live performances – hopefully, we will see some soon) and while she is no Jennifer Holliday, I had to watch the scene a part from Holliday’s performance. Without a doubt Hudson claims the song and more importantly, manages to save the entire film. If this riveting scene was not in the film, the movie would be horrendous. “And I Am Telling You” stands on its own, but Dreamgirls the film does not stand without “And I Am Telling You.”

    This is one of the few scenes that Condon copied very closely from the original play. I couldn’t help but wonder if he should’ve done more copying and less reinventing. In this scene he beautifully let’s the conflict play out – all of the other short scenes ends in minutes. “And I Am Telling You” is a full 15-20 minutes of drama and expectation, allowing you to take on the entire journey of Effie White being exiled from the group, which is why she is the most developed character in the film.

    For the most part the acting is exactly where it should be. Everyone seemed to understand it is an ensemble cast – however,
    Hudson is the star and we might as well call it “The Jennifer Hudson Movie.” For Beyonce fans, don’t go to this film expecting to see her – a good fifteen minutes go by and no Beyonce is on the screen. Murphy is flawless, Noni Rose is the most trained out of the women and Foxx is enjoyable playing a villain, which we rarely see. Then we have Miss Beyonce…the great thing about Beyonce’s performance is that you can tell she studied, trained, focused, centered her spirit, called on every theatre goddess in the universe to give her the power to play this role --------- BUT… Beyonce just can’t act! Her performing scenes were good, and you didn’t see Beyonce, you saw Deena Jones, but whenever Momma had to open her mouth and talk – everything fell apart. Keep in mind, it is easier to emote and become a different person with music and a stage – but when it comes down to dialogue and you as an actor, it's a whole other entity.

    Beyonce is no actress. Similar to Madonna – who won a Golden Globe for Evita and gagged when she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination – Beyonce might get a Golden Globe nomination, but I highly doubt she will receive an Oscar nomination and if she does it will simply be to pacify black audiences. First and foremost, Eddie Murphy deserves a nomination and if he doesn’t get one, but Beyonce does that will be disturbing. Of course Hudson will receive a nomination and from what I hear she will win. Hudson was incredible, but I am curious to see what she will do in the future.

    Dreamgirls wasn’t a bad movie, but it wasn’t a classic. This legendary musical seemed a bit too ambitious for the director who doesn't fully understand the experience of three African-American women dealing with the music industry in the ‘60’s. Dreamgirls is not the same caliber as classics like Ray or The Color PurpleHollywood glamour is not enough to make an amazing film. I would actually recommend Sparkle or The Five Heartbeats over Dreamgirls. Nonetheless, it is a good movie to see over the holidays, but lower your expectations from the hype and you will enjoy it more. In my interview with Alfre Woodard earlier this year she said, “If you spend more than 40 million dollars on a movie it ain't going to be aboutnothing.” Interesting point.

    I would give the film 3/5 stars.

    Dreamgirls opens December 15th in New York and Los Angeles, and Christmas Day nationwide.

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    Posted by Clay :: 12:00 AM :: 41 comments

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