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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dreamgirls: No Big Whoop

posted by on December 26 at 9:44 AM

So last night I had the chance to see the much-hyped Dreamgirls and it was…okay. Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy are great, Beyonce barely registers as anything beyond a hairstyle or twelve, and Jamie Foxx continues to gross me out hard.

A lot of what’s wrong with the movie is laid out in this hilarious review by Stranger writer Lindy West. (Money quote: “If I were to come across Dreamgirls on TV at 11:00 a.m. on a hung-over Tuesday, I’d be all about it… but to pay cashmoneydollars in an actual theater? It’s like ordering some fancy fish at Ponti Seafood Grill and having Pat Cashman show up with a Taco Time burrito.”)

One thing West neglects to mention, and which was a much bigger problem for me than the movie’s weak-ass attempts at a multi-layered plot, is the music. Simply put, there’s not a single song in Dreamgirls that comes close to the excitement or hookiness of even the weakest Motown track. It’s all bullshit showtune stuff, and it hobbles the whole movie.

Still, Hudson and Murphy deserve all the gushing in the world, and at least I had the good fortune to see the movie in a super-exciting setting: A packed Christmas-night cinema in Norfolk, VA, in which my mom, my boyfriend, and I were literally the only honkies. It was a blast, and the hilarious, ongoing sass-back to the screen filled up a lot of the dumb holes in the plot.

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You're wrong about the music. It's easy to be jaded 25 years later, and especially easy given the overexposure to the Dreamgirls juggernaut of late. But the Kreiger/Eyen score -- even in its truncated film version -- collects clever pastiches of various Motown styles (Smokey Robinson, Supremes, Aretha, Jackson 5, BB King, etc.) and connects them with a series of musical motifs. It's a massive accomplishment, and the genius of the score continues to unfold on repeated listenings.

That said: Beyonce's new song doesn't feel like it fits in with the rest of the score, and the film's orchestrations are inferior to those on the original cast recording.

I know Dan is a big show queen, so borrow the OCR from him and see if that doesn't change your mind a little bit. (Or better yet, the full-score concert version with Audra McDonald, Lillias White and Heather Headley.)

Posted by GrammarCop | December 26, 2006 10:39 AM

It might be good "showtune" music, but girl groups made some of the most exciting rock n roll ever, and there's not a hint of that in Dreamgirls.

Posted by David Schmader | December 26, 2006 11:10 AM

No one in the industry seems to remember what pre-70's soul/pop was like, no matter how ubiquitous the hits still are to this day. You can't put a bunch of girls in wigs and 60's dresses and let them run through vocal scales for 3 minutes in every song. Total garbage. It'd be nice to see someone get it right for once, sounds like this film isn't the it.

Posted by Dougsf | December 26, 2006 1:03 PM

when do we get the Savage's take on this, as resident Stranger showtune queen? he did one for 'Chicago'...

Posted by michael strangeways | December 26, 2006 1:53 PM

I'd love to read Nipper's review on this as well.

Posted by Dougsf | December 26, 2006 2:29 PM

I don't know how Savage will like it, but it will make Nipper want to die and/or kill.

Posted by David Schmader | December 26, 2006 2:44 PM

I was at the Ziegfeld in NY--it's been playing there for like the past week or so--and while I think the movie's great, the hands-down best part of going has been the audience. Older folks reminiscing sweetly about Michael Bennet, and the original stage production; it's really wonderful to hear.

If you want true girl group-ness, this ain't the movie for you, but the stage show never promised, or provided, that either.

Posted by Boomer | December 26, 2006 3:26 PM

Agreed somewhat on the music. Otherwise, as another gay man, I must express my disappointment in you, David. I should drive down to The Stranger offices and ask the interns to dose up your staff coffee pot with some phenethylamine and Prozac. That movie was more entertaining than a rabbit licking honey off a jackass and you all are just a syndicate of haters.



Posted by Trevor | December 28, 2006 7:34 AM

At least a typical student of The Stranger movie reviews understands: if most people like a movie, The Stranger hates it. Or as some call it - Contrarian Bitchery. "Dreamgirls" was #2 on Rolling Stones list of best 2006 movies in the event anyone is looking for some counter-intelligence in the movie-reviewing whirled. Saw it again last night in a packed movie theatre in a Dayton, Ohio suburb and the audience cheered.

Posted by HOW STRANGERLY PREDICTABLE | December 28, 2006 2:02 PM

Oh, I'm not saying it's not entertaining as shit--I'm gonna to go see it again tomorrow--but it's still not a very good movie.

Posted by David Schmader | December 28, 2006 8:03 PM

And the music sucks.

Posted by David Schmader | December 28, 2006 8:03 PM

To my surprise, I really enjoyed "Dreamgirls." I know very little about the original production, but Bill Condon--"Gods & Monsters," "Kinsey"--hasn't let me down yet. I thought he did a great job. Yeah, Murphy & Hudson are more interesting than Foxx & Knowles, but it didn't bug me the way I thought it would. Found myself humming "What's Goin' On" as I was leaving the theater. I'm not sure why; I guess one of Murphy's songs references it since he morphs into a Marvin Gaye-type character in the third act, what with the striped cap, denim shirt, et al. And damn, if he doesn't get his funk on in the pants-dropping sequence! Maybe he'll get to play the Godfather in Spike Lee's new JB pic.

Posted by Kathy Fennessy | December 29, 2006 12:02 AM

Hey now, I'm not just some jerk who hates everything for the sake of hating. But I genuinely don't think that Dreamgirls is a good movie. I can see it working as musical theater (except--agreed--for the crappy super-snooze music), but as a film it rings mighty hollow. And if the world is going to cream their jeans over it, and hold it up as an Oscar contender, then I can apply that standard of quality to it too. And it fails. Because it's silly.

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