Dreamgirls: A Review
In a Dazzling Adaptation, Jennifer Hudson Rockets to Fame

**WARNING SPOILERS**

Last night I had the opportunity to see one of the first screenings of Dreamgirls, the Bill Condon film adaptation of the Broadway musical, and Condon has pulled off an inspiring and transcendent new classic. The musical production comes alive in its cinematic form so fluidly that at times you almost forget you’re not watching a live production. I can’t remember the last time I saw an audience provide such physical and vocal responses to onscreen performances. It’s a great feeling to come to a film with high expectations and have them exceeded as that’s so often not the case.

Dreamgirls1_1You might think that with star power like Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Danny Glover that the jockeying for the spotlight would be intense, but there is really no competition here. This is Jennifer Hudson’s movie and she is astonishing.

Dreamgirls will make Jennifer Hudson a superstar. Her vocal performances are epic. No less than four times did the audience erupt into spontaneous ovations as she finished her numbers.

The pivotal scene on which the plot of the movie spins, when Effie is told that she’s been forced out of the Dreamettes, is delivered in a dazzling musical one-two punch. As the number “It’s All Over,” a tour-de-force in its deft boxing match-like staging between Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Foxx), Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), and Effie (Hudson) winds up we are left with Effie realizing, defiantly, that she’s having her dream snatched from her. The movie takes a beautifully-choreographed deep breath before Hudson slides into her solitary and powerful rendition of “And I’m Telling You”. This is the moment in the film everyone will be talking about. Hudson’s chill-inducing performance made every hair on my scalp stand on end.

Dg2As an audience member there’s no way to avoid looking at Hudson’s performance against Beyoncé’s, or to avoid noticing the way in which the show’s plot mirrors the offscreen trajectory of these singers. At one point, Taylor points out to Deena Jones that she’s being put up as lead singer because her voice is bland and has no character. Effie is the one with the voice, but she’s being relegated to the back row because she is the ‘ugly duckling’.

And you root for Hudson because of this. She does not have Beyoncé’s model looks (which undergo their own stunning metamorphosis during the film) or her figure, and the filmmakers make no attempt to hide Hudson’s heft in the film. But the differences only make you root for Effie even more. Hudson owns this film. It is all hers, and it is beautiful to watch, at the same time realizing that Hudson’s real-life story (from American Idol contestant to what should and will be an Oscar-nominated star vehicle) bears an uncanny resemblance to the one unfolding before you.

Jenniferhudson_2Make no mistake. Beyoncé turns in a rock-solid performance which in a world without Hudson would garner acclaim. “Listen,” one of the new and welcome additions to the show’s set of stand-out tracks, wakes you up to the fact that there is another great singer in this movie, but in the end it’s like holding a candle to Hudson, who has shot into Hollywood like a brilliant comet.

Fortunately for Sharon Leal and Anika Noni Rose (the other two members of the Dreams), the strength of the other singers offers them some deserved coattails to ride into the public’s awareness, but they’re essentially bit players here. Jamie Foxx gives a polished performance as the show’s villain, but the return of Eddie Murphy makes it difficult for him to get in the spotlight. Murphy is as entertaining as ever as James ‘Thunder’ Early, the womanizing soul singer who offers the Dreamettes their first opportunity. Keith Robinson, as Effie’s brother CC White, delivers a standout performance as well.

The wardrobe and sets in Dreamgirls bring back the slick, glistening environments of the late 60’s and early 70’s, and in the production is an obvious love for the glitz and excitement of live performance. This is not Evita whose characters were given little or no chance to breathe between numbers. And it is more three-dimensional and ebullient than Chicago. Dreamgirls is on its way to the Oscars.

Related
Dreamgirls Underway [tr]
Dreamgirls: A Featurette [tr]

Comments

  1. rudy says

    Cannot wait. As gay men, this one is in our DNA. Although Jennifer Holiday was reduced to a characature by the end of Dreamgirls’ run on Broadway, I believe that Jennifer Hudson will likely be captured in her ascendant prime. Her dazzling set of pipes and triumphant backstory only make her likely star status all the more deserved. The trailer alone sends anticipatory shivers up my spine. O.K., I’m ten years old again and hearing The Supremes on my new transitor radio. What a glorious present for the holidays.

  2. GO says

    I agree with your review. I also went to a screening last night and Hudson stole the show. Hands down. If she’s not nominated then I officially quit the Oscars.

    The onyl thing I didn’t like was that I wnated more scenes for Anika noni rose because she was also incredible in her scenes. They shol dhave kept “Ain’t No Party” but then she would really compete with Jennifer for Best Supporting because she was wonderful.

  3. Matt says

    I saw the movie last night as well and was underwhelmed. To me, Jennifer Hudson’s performance, and the overall movie, seemed one-note and rather flat. As someone who loves this musical, I was disappointed. With that being said, I did enjoy watching Eddie Murphy and Anika Noni Rose. They are two professionals at the top of their game.

  4. John says

    You said “It’s All Over” is a “new number.” Am I mis-reading that? The number has definitely always been in the show. The only thing new in the movie is that Jimmy was in the scene in the stage version and not in the film (they gave his lines to Deena and cut one line that I can think of off the top of my head.)

    You can see the song (and “And I am Telling You…”) by the original cast on youtube. It’s from the Tony awards in 82 and Jennifer Holliday brings the house down.

  5. juan hugo says

    Andy: thanks for this insightful review. I saw Jennifer Holiday on Broadway and was ‘blown away’ by her big number ‘And I’m Telling You’ that closed the first part of the show…spine tingling then. I am soooooo looking forward to seeing this movie version and your review has only heightened my anticipation. Incidentally I did like your very cool reply to CREO. Thanks also for this blog. I start my day with a coffee and Towelroad.

  6. Stella says

    ” Anika Noni Rose is a TONY Award winning actress – she is not riding on anyone’s coat tails. Trust, the girl can sing!”

    I don’t think it has anything to do with Anika’s skills….unfortunately it’s just the part she played.

    But every article that I’ve read, or people that I know that has viewed this movie says that it is a ‘must see’.

  7. CaliNexus says

    You GO Boy… I read only enough to find out you loved it… I’m trying to be as virgin as possible until I see the film… saw the original Broadway show in the 1980’s and various revivals… absolutely adore it. Can’t wait for the remastered original soundtrack next week–with three additional songs. I laughed when you wrote about audience providing physical and vocal responses… (have you ever been to the movies with my black people?) I love it when the audience let’s you know… Thanks, Andy!

  8. Jeremy says

    I saw it last night, too and can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack since I was a little gay boy but have never seen a stage production. Bill Condon exceeded my expectations. J.Hud gives the most electrifying performance in a musical since Liza in Cabaret. From the moment she appeared on screen, she WAS Effie and the audience (full of gay theater queens, judging from the applause when the musical intros began) were on her side rooting for her and she didn’t disappoint. I can’t wait to see it again.

  9. Arnie H. says

    I can’t tell from your review if this movie is filmed with the same quick cuts and short takes that gave me a headache during Chicago and ruined it for me.
    Sine Condon merely wrote, but did not direct, Chicago, I am not sure what to expect.
    Dreamgirls was great on stage, and yet I am not so excited about this movie because of my fears. Please elaborate. Thanks.

  10. says

    “Dreamgirls” is not part of “our” DNA. And musicals are not “gay”. It’s fags like you that not only encourage stereotyping of yourself and your community, but also discourage straight men who could very well LOVE LOVE LOVE musicals but play it down or keep it in the closet because of the stigma it carries to their hetero friends- a stigma you are promoting. Oh, he’s a guy and he loves musicals- he must be gay. We have to quit it with this already because it’s B.S.

  11. rudy says

    Patrick darlin’ you are an idiot. I can love musicals and beat the shit out of your brain-dead hide. Both are part of any self-respecting gay man’s DNA. The vast majority of us are multi-talented and conversant in many artforms, including witty conversation. Too bad you missed that strand. Just what the community needs, a defender of straight men too nelly to admit they like musicals. Baby, you live in a sad, sad world.

  12. Wayne says

    Patrick, you are the one with the problem here. Your post reads very defensive, and why you would bash another “fag”, as you put it, and try to make us act like everyone else so the straight people will “LOVE LOVE LOVE” the theater (your phrase is about as gay as it gets my friend) is beyond me.

  13. Tropico says

    I saw it last night too and was impressed. I was aware of the story line but had never seen the musical. Jennifer was really incredible as was Beyonce. The part where Deana makes her first appearance as lead is stunning – you can see Beyonce’s star power unfold before your eyes. She goes from set dressing to star in moments. Jennifer IS Effie and has earned the acclaim she is receiving.

  14. says

    Rudy’s defining of gayness is off mark and only encourages sterotypes… To say that that the vast majority of gay people are “multi-talented and conversant in many artforms, including witty conversation” is untrue…

  15. says

    Aieeeeeeee!

    I love you for this review… but I HATE ALL OF YOU who got to see it already! :)

    I say it with love.

    Oh my God I have to go get tickets. In case anyone hasn’t seen the New York Post this morning – the movie will play for 10 days in NY and LA starting Dec 15th – tix are $25, one show a day. Yes, $25. And I’m going for it.

    And Patrick, it’s okay for gay boys to like musicals, really… and straight boys, too. And for those of us who do, it really is in our DNA.

  16. jon luddite says

    Well, in Patrick’s defense (sort of)…musical theater is not part of this gay man’s DNA (though my boyfriend most definitely has that DNA strand). It does’t mean much to me, but I hope you all enjoy the show.

  17. says

    Thank you Jon Luddite…oh and by the way did any of you know that the Colts are 9-0 and that Notre Dame has a shot at making the BSC Championship Bowl game…and that if any of you want to watch college or pro ball with some us on the weekends in Miami just give me a holler…all that is required is that you leave you pre determined DNA at home…no broadway songs allowed…well….maybe after the games! Ha!

  18. Brett says

    Patrick…fuckin’ chill the fuk out, and lighten the fuk up! There are SO many other more important things to get your panties in at twist about. You certainly disprove the notion that a wicked sense of humor is in our DNA.

  19. Daniel says

    It’s in MY DNA! Maybe us showqueens have different DNA than just your run-of-the-mill homosexual. I am so excited about this I’m like a teen-age girl. Go on Jennifer Hudson.

  20. noah says

    Patrick and Rudy,

    You’re both wrong:

    Patrick, calling someone a “fag” is stupid.

    Rudy, being a fan of musicals and “multitalented” is not inherent for all gays. That’s like saying we’re all cookie cutter clones instead of individuals with different life experiences.

  21. rudy says

    Noah, Sorry that you are not multi-talented. All my gay friends are. I have danced Balanchine, can rope, castrate and brand a steer, dated a professional boxer and a professional football player (neither of whom I will name because neither is out; but I may take Chip up on his offer) and have been instrumental in securing legal rights and protections for my fellow gays. If I am mistaken it was in believing, based on my experience, that gays are talented in many spheres and respectful of the skills and interests of others. Too bad that you and Patrick are not. As for being a being a witty conversationalist, your posts prove your denials; no need for further evidence that you are so lacking. The Family may have to revoke your membership cards.

  22. peterparker says

    Hey Go,

    I’ve long thought the Oscars tended toward a celebration of mediocrity (Hello, can anyone say ‘Titanic’?), but I officially quit the Oscars last year when Brokeback lost to Crash (ugh) for Best Film and when my sweet Heath lost to Philip Seymour Hoffman for Best Actor. The Academy Awards are a joke. I’m just sayin’.

  23. noah says

    Rudy,

    There’s a difference between being bitchy and witty. Just as there is between being a nasty jerk and a playful friend.

    Stereotyping anyone is not a compliment; it’s just a lazy way to make people fit into a boring mind’s worldview. You’re ascribing characteristics to millions of people. Not all Irish people drink excessively. Not all Jews read the New York Times while eating bagels and lox. Not all Asians are math whizes. And, some black people can’t dance damn worth a damn.

    (And when did dating people who have different professions become a talent?)

  24. Rascal says

    Rudy, the talents you claim are heavily outweighed by the ones you so obviously lack, as evidenced by the tone and nature of your post. And, no, hubris is not a talent.

  25. says

    “Listen” is a bonus track on Beyoncé’s latest album B’day (give it, uh, a listen in iTunes). It’s actually quite a good track, but everything about it SCREAMS: “I just finished filming Dreamgirls, and even though my name is above the title, the movie belongs to J. Hud, so I better write me an over-the-top diva smash so the focus goes back on me by the film’s end.” Since I didn’t see the movie, and now that it’s confirmed the “new” song made the cut, was my assumption the right one?

  26. rudy says

    One more time s-l-o-w-l-y. I am apparently mistaken in my belief that gay men are interested in, conversant about, and have skills and talents in many subjects, including musical theater, movies, sports, etc. I was basing this assumption on my gay friends. Perhaps they are a limited and special subset of gay men, but I doubt it. The diversity among the large number of gay men that I have met travelling the world for thirty years tend to have unifying characteristics of intelligence and talent. If Rascal, Noah, Patrick, and others do not want to be labelled as multi-talented or witty, so be it. I will not offend you further by suggesting that you are intelligent and able to enjoy a full range of human endeavor.

  27. Greg says

    I have been a fan of this story for more than 20 years now and when I think of the Broadway performance I saw, I still get goosebumps. I never thought they’d make it into a movie, but now that they have I am delighted to hear that it is offering its audiences the same rush of emotions I first felt some two decades ago. I can’t wait to see it.

  28. Rascal says

    Rudy, you are so far off the point it would be a futile attempt to try and get you anywhere near it. At least try not to ascribe the insecurities you have about your own limitations (the overly self-congratulatory nature of your post gave that away) to others, whose interests and talents are surely much farther-ranging than you can even contemplate.

  29. says

    Where are you travelling, Rudy, the gay ghettos of the world? It may make you feel good to believe that all “gay men are interested in, conversant about, and have skills and talents in many subjects, including musical theater, movies, sports, etc.” but it’s certainly not the case. You can go on believing it, but beliefs are a dime a dozen. Some people believe that gays are abhorrent and should die. Beliefs are crutches for people who don’t have a leg to stand on. P.S. There is no “Family”. Gay people, just because they are gay, are not related and certainly don’t love each other unconditionally. Otherwise you wouldn’t be boxing us in as you do. Can’t a fag enjoy “Dreamgirls” without having “show queen” rammed down their throat?

  30. mark m says

    I’m counting the days until the new Star Trek movie directed by JJ Abrams is released. There I said it.

    psssst, I’m also looking forward to Dreamgirls! Don’t tell my gay geek friends!

  31. Mike says

    I can’t fucking wait until Dreamgirls is the theaters. I’m not as sophisticated as many of you, but I know the performances of all the actors are exceptional. I have goose bumps just watching the trailer for the movie. I’m not going to let petty bickering on this site detour my anticipation. I’m just wandering how many times I’m going to see it the first week it is released.

    Bravo…..for an excellent review. I can’t wait until your full review Andy.

  32. rudy says

    Patrick, Noah, Rascal, You have through your postings proved your point that not all gay men are intelligent and multi-talented. If you are content to wallow in your ignorance and lack of ability and display such shortcomings for all to see through your cliched and barely coherent postings, who am I to ascribe to you talents and skills you obviously do not possess? I apologize for assuming the best in you. Thankfully, we have not met. Rest assurred that I will keep to my multi-talented, intelligent, and decidedly non-stereotypical circle of gay and straight friends.

  33. PSMike says

    Rudy: I have THE most perfect mirror that you must meet. You’d really really love it. I mean, a lot. I mean, clearly, a whole lot.

    Belief that gay men are better or worse than str8 men is the dumbest thing in the world. Thanks for proving it once again.

    In the meantime, thanks for the Dreamgirls post, Andy.

  34. Chris Nutile says

    Wasn’t I at the same theater as you Andy? Physical and vocal responses from the audience? Transcendent new classic?

    Dreamgirls is C+ at best. Believe me, I WANTED to love it. I agree, Jennifer Hudson knocks it out of the park. She apes the original performance by Jennifer Holliday, like nobody’s business.

    But Beyonce and the rest of the cast? Bland at best…

    Oh well, I hope Paramount isn’t able to buy you off with free movie tickets! 😉

    Still love ya!

  35. soulbrotha says

    Ok Chris Nutile, thems fightin’ words!
    Now let me say upfront that I did not see the movie yet, so I am not basing my comment on that.
    But I do have a leak of the track “And I Am Telling You” sung by Jennifer Hudson, and I think she was very original in her approach. She kills it!

    If enough of you guys are interested in hearing it, I can post a download link and you can give your opinion. Just let me know.

  36. Chris Nutile says

    I did see the movie last week. I was happily surprised to even bump into Andy Towle, my long lost object of desire from many P-town summers past.

    Jennifer Hudson did nail her songs. This show will make her a star. Simon Colwell was wrong again. Jennifer Hudson WILL get another chance for success.

    The only thing I would say is that her rendition of “And I am Telling You”, sounds very close to how Jennifer Holliday sang the song in 1981. I think she may have listened to the Broadway Cast album a bit too many times in preparation for her performance.

    Paramount and Dreamworks are terrified of the constant comparisons of the Jennifers and have supressed mentions of Jennifer Holliday in as much of the press as possible. By having the renditions of the shows biggest number be so similar, they have opened the door for comparison.

    Like I said, the movie was at best a C+ film. Ok, I am hypercritical, maybe it is a B-.

    I just was finding it hard to believe I was in the same theater with Andy. The theater was not even 1/3 filled and tickets were offered free to employees of all the major media outlets in town. Heck, I am a total NOBODY and I was there!

    PS: Post the clip of Jennifer Hudson. Would love to hear it.

  37. Bobby says

    Patrick baby, stop trying to be accepted by the straight world and accept who you are. We are different and that’s the spice of life and we all need some spice.

    I think the “straight acting” description that some people seem to love to use to describe themselves or what they like is the biggest insult to homosexuals. I’m HUMAN acting not fucking anything else and that can encompass anything I wish.

    I have a copy of Jennifer Hudson’s version of “AND I’M TELLING YOU…” and it is incredible. Just enough like Holiday’s and different enough to be her own.

    I think this is THE MOVIE event of the year.

    Peace and love to you all. Conforming sucks!

  38. mel williams says

    Hello everyone, I’m very excited about seeing this movie Dreamgirls. Especially, since I saw the original cast on broadway 3 times, and then I was an usher in LA, which Jennifer Holliday was the star. I haft to say, I am very bias and was not terribly thrilled by Hudson version of And I Am Telling You, which is on the youtube website. I just don’t see anyone matching Jennifer Holliday performance, but I will go and see the movie anyway, because its a great peace of theatre. Mel

  39. PSMike says

    Soulbrotha, thanks for the link.
    I’ve listened to it about 5X now, and I can’t really say much until I see the movie. I went to YouTube to watch the trailer, and then viewed the several ‘homemade’ trailers that fans have made in anticipation…and, damn, one Jennifer H. kicks ass..and it ain’t the one in the movie. Maybe watching Miss Hudson will change that. I will say this for certain, the arrangements really sucked on the new version. Thin, cheesy…I hope they’re fuller in the actual movie.

  40. PSMike says

    Here’s a link for Jennifer Holliday singing at Carnegie Hall in ’98.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqt9mfcg7cQ

    Here’s one fron the Tony’s the year the show was nominated.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC_u_q-iND0&mode=related&search=

    Watching these…(except for the comment on the thin arrangements), I think it doesn’t matter how Jennifer Hudson sings it. She’s the performer of record in the movie and it’s unfair to compare the two. She’s going to win the Oscar as long as they keep her in the Best Supporting Actress category. It’s a done deal. And she’ll be compared until she’s 100 years old.

  41. soulbrotha says

    Hi PSMike.
    The link I posted was an early leak of the track, so I am pretty sure that the “official” version is going to have a much fuller sound.
    You are right about people comparing the Jennifers. And that’s unfortunate because they are both great in their own right. You should see some of the arguments on YouTube when someone posts a clip of a singer. The claws come out and the ridiculous comparisons begin. Sheesh!
    I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Holliday. There is no one like her. But she had her day and now it is Ms. Hudson’s turn to shine. No comparisons needed.

  42. Podar says

    Creo’s trash. End of story.

    Although “I’m Telling You” is a penomenal song it is only part of the whole package, so comparing the two Jennifers based on the one song doesn’t make any sense.

    I was a JHud fan from the first time I saw her sing at the trials for AI. I loved her total unaffectedness and her moving expressions while she sang. She was always acting and I was always blown away by her performances.

    When she went home from AI inside I always knew her talent simply could not go unnoticed forever, otherwise I would lose all faith in people.

    I always wanted to give Jennifer a big hug and tell her she’s better than all of them and that her day would come. Now need for that anymore.

    I absolutely cannot wait to watch Oprah Monday. Sqeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

  43. Freddy says

    I’m so happy I finally got to see this movie. I wanna see it again tho!! Jennifer Hudson was amazing! Anika Noni Rose is so entertaining, and Beyonce was as beautiful as ever!

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