When it comes to his long-standing aversion to musicals, Judge Dennis Prince belts out, "I am changing."
C.C. White: Isn't music supposed to express what people are
Immediately, we recognize the bittersweet implications of the title, Dreamgirls—a foray into the glitz and glamour of Motown's heyday, starkly offset by the dark underbelly of a music industry that poisons as quickly as it promotes. The parallels to top R&B acts of yesteryear are obvious, yet this smash Broadway musical-turned-movie feels anything but tired. In fact, after experiencing Dreamgirls raw talent, passion, and emotion, it's the audience that's left gasping for air.
Facts of the Case
Fame Comes And Goes, Stars Rise And Fall, But Dreams Live Forever.
On that talent competition stage, the Dreamettes—Effie White (Jennifer Hudson, American Idol (2003)), Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles, The Fighting Temptations), and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose, Surviving Christmas)—only wanted a chance at their dream; to become a successful singing trio. As luck would have it, an aspiring music manager, Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Foxx, Ray), convinces the girls to become backup vocalists to the suave and seductive soul sensation, Jimmy 'Thunder' Early (Eddie Murphy, The Golden Child). Although Effie initially protests relegation to backup performer, Curtis convinces the girls this is merely a stepping stone to their dream. Soon Curtis begins to impose his business acumen in a way that redefines Jimmy's style and results in the departure of his longtime manager, Marty Madison (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon). Aloft and absorbed in his own sense of self-confidence, Curtis determines to send the girls solo—as the Dreams—but with an unexpected deference. The comely Deena steps to front as the leader, with Effie's superior talent snubbed for the sake of salesmanship. How will Effie manage this major injustice, and what might become of Deena being wholly "owned" by the manipulative Curtis?
Easily, the most refreshing element of this infectious musical is it remains so securely anchored in its compelling plotline. Undeniably, the music drives the show, from start to finish, but it's the solid story that gives it purpose. While there are no surprises to the events that transpire—including touching upon certain improprieties of celebrities, the matter of "payola" scams, and the disappointment when the entertainment business shows its true colors—the pacing and delivery is perfect-pitched to make the film irresistible.
All actors are precise in their performances, with Eddie Murphy being somewhat acknowledged by a Best Supporting Actor nomination. As Jimmy Early, Murphy brings elements of his long-standing James Brown riffs, seasoned with bits of Stevie Wonder and Little Richard. And while the role could have easily degenerated into a self-referential parody of Murphy's former comedy shticks, the comedian-turned-actor shows a surprising depth to his performance that is entirely convincing. Early is certainly indulgent in all the music business has to offer—cavorting into the realm of marital infidelity and, eventually, substance abuse—yet ultimately becomes a casualty of the money machine. Murphy gives his character realism, without being upstaged by the musical cues. Likewise, Jamie Foxx is unrelenting in Curtis' quest for success, callous to the personal impacts his ambition has upon those he manages. Vocally, he is excellent, reminding us of his talents in that regard. As for Beyoncé, she emulates Motown's greatest diva with unwavering conviction. Her character arc is as compelling as Murphy's, with Deena also becoming a tool of Curtis's ambitions. But it's Jennifer Hudson as the emotionally magnetic Effie White who emerges as the true "Dreamgirl" incarnate. Proving that even if you lose you may actually have won—this in regards to her elimination in the 2003 American Idol competition—Hudson reportedly outlasted 782 other actresses for this coveted role. Fully seizing the opportunity, Hudson has ample talent as a dramatic actress and punctuates this emphatically with her awe-inspiring vocal gifts; her performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" is rousing and absolutely riveting. Credit the newcomer for ultimately carrying this audacious effort on her capable shoulders without snubbing her co-stars.
Released day-and-date alongside the two-disc Standard Definition and HD editions, this Blu-ray offering is identical in content. The 1080p / MPEG-2 encoded transfer is exquisite, dripping with vivid color and sparkling details that allows you to step into the star-studded stage world. The detail is excellent and the contrast is perfect to get that desirable "pop" from a high definition presentation. Black levels are velvety smooth and serve to further enhance the visual sumptuousness. The source print is perfect and there are no visible compression artifacts. All told, this is a top tier transfer.
Billed as a "Two-Disc Showstopper Edition," it certainly lives up to the promise. Besides the feature film, Disc One also includes a generous offering of 20 deleted and extended scenes, all presented in high-definition. These are significant since they comprise the complete performances of the film's musical numbers. Also included is a non-HD music video of Beyoncé performing "Listen." On Disc Two, the bulk of the extras begin with the two-hour documentary, Building the Dream, a 9-part retrospective that is as thorough as a fan could want—obvious from the extensive running time. Three featurettes cover aspects of editing for a musical, theatrical lighting, and costuming. Following these is a short collection of auditions and screen tests that capture Beyoncé, Anika Noni Rose, and choreographer Fatima Robinson. Pre-visualization sequences are included to wrap up the impressive content.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you wondered whether the record skipped when it came to discussing the audio aspects of this release, it didn't. Then again, Paramount seemed to skip over the potential of the Blu-ray format when it came to presenting a high-definition soundtrack. The available Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix is clean and energetic yet it definitely lacks the punch this film so surely deserves. An uncompressed PCM or DTS Master Audio Lossless would have certainly broken this one wide open to perfect effect. As it stands, the available 5.1 track is good, but its definitely not as great as it should be.
It's practically impossible to be unimpressed by what is offered. Dreamgirls proves how effective and effusive the screen musical can be, and it's likely this is the musical that will woo even the most musical-averse among us.
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Scales of Justice
• Documentary: Building the Dream
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