Yesterday, PJ and I went to Columbus to do some shopping. While we were there, we saw Dreamgirls, one of the most talked about films of the year. I had heard the original soundtrack album before and was generally familiar with the overall plot, but I really had little preconceived idea about what to expect. While the movie has received a lot of positive press, it hasn’t been universally acclaimed. So, I was looking forward to forming my own opinion. Since I’m a gay man who loves Black women and musicals, I guess it isn’t surprising that I think Dreamgirls is one of the year’s best and most entertaining films.

Here’s the trailer from Youtube:

As just about everyone probably already knows, Dreamgirls is loosely based on the story of the Supremes: a Detroit girl group called the Dreamettes is struggling to make it when a car salesman cum music producer, Curtis Taylor, Jr., played by Jamie Foxx, decides to give them a break as background singers for a popular R&B star, James Early, played by Eddie Murphy. When Early’s sound remains too “black” for popular tastes (i.e., whites), Curtis decides to remake the Dreamettes into the Dreams, moving one of the background singers, Beyonce Knowles‘s Deena Jones, into the lead since her voice is weaker and therefore more pop-friendly than that of the previous lead singer, Effie, played by Jennifer Hudson. Needless to say, this change is the beginning of the end for the original Dreamettes, as jealousy, changes in music, and romantic triangles begin to tear them apart.

Many of the positive things I’ve read about this film are true. Let’s start with Jennifer Hudson. She is wonderful in the role of Effie. Her performances of “And I am Telling You” and “I’m Changing” are revelatory. And she can act. For a debut performance, this is nothing short of fabulous (and I mean to evoke all of the gay connotations of that word in this context).

Reports of Eddie Murphy’s excellent performance are also accurate. His James Early is the standout performance in the movie, I think. He becomes this character, which is tailor-made for his talents. I’ve never been a big Eddie Murphy fan in the past. This film might change that.

The other performance that is great is Anika Noni Rose‘s Lorrell Robinson, the third member of the Dreamettes/Dreams. She is a great singer, and she nearly steals every scene she’s in. Hers isn’t a flashy part, but getting it right is crucial to the film’s success. She definitely gets it right.

Beyonce has a rather thankless task in the part of Deena. Deena’s a pretty, likeable but not terribly talented singer, which means that Beyonce’s scenes always belong to one of the supporting players until rather late in the film, when she finally gets to shine with her original song, “Listen.”

I also appreciated Bill Condon‘s direction of the film. Condon’s previous direction of Kinsey and of Gods and Monsters has made him one of my favorite directors. Dreamgirls continues his record of excellent work.

Condon also adapted the screenplay for the film. I’m not quite as sold on his writing as I am on his direction. In one role or the other, Condon should have cut a little of the film: it’s a tad long. Also, the film’s contextualization of its plot with historical events is sometimes kind of clunky. Simply showing a couple of clips of rioters in Detroit doesn’t really do enough to contextualize the historical situation. Condon means to parallel the Dreams’ professional and personal struggles with the larger challenges facing African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s. But I’m not sure that the shorthand way in which this was achieved really worked.

Overall, this is an excellent and entertaining film. I look forward to seeing what Jennifer Hudson can do when her album comes out. I really hope that she and Murphy not only receive Academy Award nominations but that they win as well. I’d also support a Best Song Oscar for Beyonce. It’s definitely in my top five films of the year.