It’s taken me a frighteningly long time to get around to watching Dreamgirls. Before I can even begin to review it, can I simply state that I completely freakin’ LOVE Loretta Devine, and you should too!
So why the delay, Lola? It’s a musical, it’s a film, and people were actually going to see it because there were big names in the cast. Surely ample reason to be swept along in the cinema-going tides? Well, for whatever reason, I didn’t. But I do have a lovely friend R, obsessed with it and determined that I should be too. Little did R know that I have the original soundtrack with Jennifer Holliday and the aforementioned Loretta “bloody fabulous” Devine, so I at least had an idea what to expect. I just didn’t know if I could be bothered, or if I could resist the urge to slap Beyoncé for two whole hours.
Turns out I could. It was in fact possible to forget that Beyoncé was Beyoncé for much of the film, proving that she must have been doing some real proper acting. Or perhaps it was the case that when Jennifer Hudson is on screen, why would you waste your time looking at or listening to anyone else? It’s such a shame that Lorrell is the weakest of the three parts, because Anika Noni Rose is the very definition of a tour de force. Yes, I’m a theatrical snob who thinks paying your dues by treading the boards makes you a better actor, and by extension a better person, but if you listen to the Caroline, or Change soundtrack a couple of dozen times you’ll be smitten too. Hell, if the woman can even get noticed when you consider my unquenchable love and respect for Chandra Wilson, she must have been doing something right (and the Tony judges agree with me!).
Eddie Murphy was (surprisingly) perfect in the role of Jimmy Thunders, I suppose it needed an OTT personality, but he didn’t turn it into a comedic role, which had to at least be tempting for him. Jamie Foxx is sort of okay, but I find him almost devoid of charisma. Not what you want in a leading man really, even when the character is supposed to be a megalomaniac ass.
The direction is wonderful for the most part, maintaining the slight breathlessness that gives the feeling of a live performance. A dazzling vibrancy in the colours, full cinematic treatment of the score and enough retro kitsch to keep me happy. If you can watch it and not spend the evening singing “One Night Only”, well then, you’re a better woman than me.
There’s a rawness to the performances, particularly Jennifer Hudson’s superlative-inducing assault on the mother of all ‘end of act one’ numbers – And I Am Telling You. It’s the sort of song that you can easily stick Whitney Houston-esque pyrotechnics on, but without the pain it’s pointless. A song that’s basically grovelling on your knees to the man who’s leaving you, all the while trying to hold on to the dignity you’d die to keep. That bleeding into the orchestra pit level of pure emotion isn’t easy to come by, but the collective goosebumps of the viewing audience seem to suggest that Ms Hudson nailed it.
Not necessarily the ultimate classic, and it’s not bumping Funny Girl from the top of my musical list, but it deserves its place on there at the very least.