Vibrant colors and lively music immediately greet moviegoers within the first few minutes of Bill Condon’s musical drama “Dreamgirls,” a fitting opening for the dazzling film. Condon also penned the screen adaptation for the movie blockbuster “Chicago,” and he wrote and directed the films “Gods and Monsters” and “Kinsey.” But, with “Dreamgirls” the accomplished director outdoes himself.
“Dreamgirls” follows the story of aspiring sixties girl group the Dreamettes, featuring lead singer Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and backup singers Deena (Beyonce Knowles) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose). Wannabe music manager Curtis (Jamie Foxx) spots the trio at a talent show, and recruits them as backup singers for the more famous James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy). Slick Curtis becomes romantically involved with the overbearing Effie, and promises her future success.
As Curtis pushes James’s manager, Marty (Danny Glover) out of the picture, he attempts to transform James and the Dreamettes into a popular act. However, when James pushes racial boundaries too far for the time, Curtis decides to make the Dreamettes into their own act. As the “Dreamgirls” become the Dreams and rise to success, the requisite drama and diva behavior ensues. Ultimately, Condon tempers his dazzling celebration of the entertainment industry with a healthy dose of cynicism.
Condon’s strong direction is carried out by his all star cast, including notable supporting cast members, such as Keith Robinson who plays C.C. (Effie’s brother) and Sharon Leal, who portrays Effie’s replacement Michelle. Condon’s abilities as a director can most obviously be seen in veteran actor Murphy’s performance and in the performance of newcomer Hudson, who had barely acted prior to this film. Murphy gives his most emotional and versatile performance to date, subdued at times as his career plummets, yet going completely over the top when he pleads onstage for the audience to connect with him.
Yet it is Hudson who truly steals the show, and performs applause-earning numbers such as “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” exuding emotion in her voice and face that are unmatched by any of her onscreen peers. It is ironic that the film, a critique on the image-driven entertainment industry, seems to play on in real life what it condemns on film – Knowles is billed as the star, although Hudson plays the key role. Whether this is because Knowles is the more renowned actress, or simply because she adheres more to conventional norms of beauty, this marketing decision contradicts what seems to be the film’s message.
Despite this contradiction, Condon’s “Dreamgirls” is a joy to behold. Although “Dreamgirls” does lack some substance, it makes up for it by being a truly cinematic spectacle – dazzling, colorful, evocative and emotional. The curtain will not quickly close on “Dreamgirls,” as the film will most likely be remembered as one of the best of 2006.