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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

'Dreamgirls', Jennifer Hudson's performance (singing and acting) had people cheering in the theater

Dreamgirls poster

Second of the three movies I saw in Singapore.

Wanted to see DREAMGIRLS for a long time due to its pre-Oscar hype, and the furore over its lack of Best Picture nomination, and then Jennifer Hudson's victory (was also intrigued by Eddie Murphy's much-lauded dramatic performance).

Anyway, DREAMGIRLS, in my opinion, is more musical biopic in the vein of RAY and WALK THE LINE than something like CHICAGO or MOULIN ROUGE. Capturing the 60s and 70s era when black music reached crossover success by revolutionizing the mainstream all-white pop world (sort of a history of Motown), many should know by now that the film characters are loosely based on real-life figures, in fact, it's a fictionalized portrayal of Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Although (besides Jpop) R & B was something I listened to most while growing up, my knowledge of its history is pretty limited, so the following is a list of main characters in the film and their real-life counterparts (I think).

Deena (Beyonce Knowles) = Diana Ross
Effie (Jennifer Hudson) = Florence Ballard
Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) = Mary Wilson
Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) = Berry Gordy Jr.
James "Thunder" Early = James Brown + Marvin Gaye

There are also numerous references to singers of that era, like Jackson 5. That political single James Early recorded is similar to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" etc.

Weird that Jennifer Hudson was regarded as the 'Supporting Actress' of the film when it's so blatantly obvious to me that Effie White is the actual protagonist of this film (Deena didn't really take centerstage until, well, she replaces Effie as the lead vocalist of the Dreamettes halfway during the film). Oh well, Hollywood politics.

My thoughts on this film? It's a really good film. Nice acting (Jamie Foxx deserves just as much kudos as Hudson and Murphy), nice music, nice producing, nice pacing, Jennifer Hudson's performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" is just as good as everyone had said, raised goosebumps, probably one of the most powerful performances I've ever seen captured in a musical. I almost had to resist the urge of standing up and clapping, I would have done it... but the audiences around me were too damned silent.

And Eddie Murphy, my god, all my years of watching him since I was a kid, from the early BEVERLY HILLS COP and COMING TO AMERICA days, to his 90s comeback with NUTTY PROFESSOR and DR. DOLITTLE and I've never expected him to bring so much gravitas and poignancy to his role as James Early during the second half of the film, when his career starts to go downhill, and he becomes addicted to cocaine, the cockiness and swagger shown at the beginning are replace by desperation, vulnerability and defeat. Okay, there was some poignancy in NUTTY PROFESSOR, but he was in a fat bodysuit...

However, while this film managed to reach greatness at times, it doesn't hit me emotionally like WALK THE LINE (or even RAY, despite the fact that it drags at times) did, due to its simplistic characters and plot, the amount of singing kinda distanced me from the characters, stopping me from feeling more during the dramatic parts, and just when I am about to care for them, the film ends.

Maybe it is too mythological. Maybe it's the fast pace.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that the Deena character isn't fleshed so well. She seems merely like a personality-less fembot who does everything she is ordered to do by Curtis (who later becomes her husband), that when she finally lashes back at Effie, I actually felt good for her.

Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal ruined it for me because he showed me that he could sing "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" just as well as Jennifer Hudson did.

Seriously, it's Jake's fault. I was constantly haunted by icky images of his performance throughout the movie.

Oh, and I want to see Eddie Murphy in more dramatic roles.