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The supreme rise of The Dreams

The supreme rise of The Dreams

Just when I thought I lost the capacity to cry and hoorah, after La Vie en Rose failed to summons any tears, along comes Dreamgirls.

A film adaptation of a book and broadway musical, Dreamgirls tells the story of the phenomenal rise of The Dreams, a three-piece RnB group of the 1960s/70s. The story is loosely based around The SupremesDiana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and (later) Cindy Birdsong. Instead, we have (respectively) Deena (Beyonce Knowles), Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose), Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and Michelle Morris (Sharon Leal).

But, Dreamgirls is more than just a story about The Dreams. It’s the story of the move of Afro-American music into mainstream pop culture, timed as it were with the emerging civil rights movement and turbulent race relations of the time, which background the story. At the centre of this story is Curtis Taylor Jnr (Jamie Foxx), manager of The Dreams and based on Mowtown records founder Berry Gordy. The mainstream music industry throws up its own set of challenges, and its Curtis that manages this.

The film owes a lot to the Effie White character, based loosely upon Ballard. Like Effie, Ballard was originally the lead singer of The Supremes until the decision was made to lead with the soprano voice of Diana Ross. Like Effie, Ballard was resentful of the change and ultimately left the group following increasing alcoholism and no-shows at rehearsals. Cindy Birdsong replaced Ballard, who would pursue a brief solo career. In 1974, Ballard was invited to join The Supremes on stage at a special performance. This she did and, although she chose not to sing, her appearance drew ovations from the audience. Tragically, Ballard died two years later aged 32.

The other curious character in the film was Curtis Taylor Jnr, manager of The Dreams. Both groundbreaking and opportunistic, Curtis knows what hand to play and when. Curtis is a contrast to the ‘I got soul’ of James ‘Thunder’ Early (played by Eddie Murphy), who is fun, if not off-the-rails. This is a slightly darker side of showbiz, with the drugs and commerciality that has its own victims. Note the hat-tip to the Jacksons.

The other characters, however, were disappointingly flat. Some character development in Deena would have been appreciated — it wasn’t until the pivotal song ‘Listen’ that some depth here came through, but too little too late.

There are a number of key songs in this movie for me, but my favourite was ‘Listen’, performed by Beyonce. I also thought Hudson’s version of ‘One Night Only’ was fantastic and touching, but surprisingly absent from the soundtrack, as was her ‘Love You I Do’. Hudson’s hit song was ‘And I am Telling you I am not Going’ and to be honest, I just wished she did go when I heard this song. The scene and song would be better given to Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, because Hudson was getting a little meldramatically monstrous.

There are some campy and well-choreographed pieces, notably ‘Steppin’ to the Badside’ (another favourite) and The Dreams’ performance of ‘One Night Only’, when the movie remembers that it is a musical in the same vain as Chicago. And a musical it is, as dialogue grows into shudderingly fantastic numbers.

I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, because the first half seemed relatively average. It was looking a lot like a slideshow of moments leading up to the rise of The Dreams, barely allowing me to take a breath — the switch between scenes was like being on a rollercoaster ride. The film needed to just sit with a few moments so they could resonate — a shame because there were some powerful moments.

Dreamgirls is a fun, glam picture, with great performances and numbers — just a little ambitious and glib. I cried, I clapped and I cheered, and for that I am grateful.


Written by Darren Smith

23 August 2008 at 9:42 pm

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  1. […] – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by Franzosichfuchs on 2008-11-04 Film review: Dreamgirls – bookmarked by 4 members originally found by dougb on […]

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