Vocal histrionics and thinly veiled Motown storylines mar this overburdened, musical adaptation
By Geoffrey Himes
When you’re making a movie musical based loosely around a fictional Motown and the best singer in your cast is Eddie Murphy, you’ve got problems. That’s the stumbling block writer-director Bill Condon never quite cleared in putting together the movie version of the Broadway hit Dreamgirls. Murphy doesn’t have the best voice in the picture; in fact, his modest tenor is easily outclassed by Beyoncé Knowles, American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose. Those three divas, however, approach singing as an athletic competition, whereas Murphy knows how to shape a song and sell it. Murphy’s character, Jimmy “Thunder” Early, is the only truly soulful singer on the screen. The thing is, the movie isn’t about him. It’s about three teenage girls from Detroit who form a vocal group called the Dreamettes. As they work the local amateur shows, their focal point is Effie (Hudson), a belter who wows the crowds while Deena (Knowles) and Michelle (Rose) chirp harmonies behind her. The trio gets its big break when it’s hired as Jimmy Early’s backup singers. Meanwhile, a local Cadillac salesman named Curtis (Jamie Foxx) has founded Rainbow Records as a vehicle for liberating Jimmy from the R&B charts and putting him on the pop charts. The movie is nearly devoid of humor. In fact, the funniest line here comes at the end of the final credits, which announce, “These characters and events are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” It’s no secret that Dreamgirls is closely modeled on the Supremes and Motown Records, and what fun there is in the movie comes from matching the thinly disguised fictional characters to their real-life counterparts.
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