Dreamgirls has made Oscar history and the ceremony hasn’t even taken place yet. It is, allegedly, the first picture to have the most Academy Award nominations in a given year and still not be nominated for Best Picture. And, for once, the Academy seems to have got it right. For, while Dreamgirls has many fantastic attributes - brilliant musical numbers, top performances, and some amazing camerawork and editing - it doesn’t quite gel, ensuring that this musical never moves from being a good film to a supreme one.
In recent years, adaptations of Broadway shows have been particularly lacklustre. Let’s face it, the film adaptations of Rent, The Producers and The Phantom of the Opera were all outdone by Team America. Indeed, if memory serves, before Dreamgirls the only decent recent Broadway stage screen transfer has been Chicago - a film written by Bill Condon, the writer/director of Dreamgirls. Condon’s CV displays a penchant in recent times to make films based on real people (see also Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey and James Whale in Gods and Monsters), and Dreamgirls is loosely based on the story of The Supremes, with Beyoncé Knowles playing Deena Jones (an alias for Diana Ross) and American Idol graduate Jennifer Hudson starring as Effie White (a double for The Supremes’ Florence Ballard). With these two in charge of the vocals, the singing was never going to be a problem, but here we have the unexpected bonus of Beyoncé finally showing some acting chops and Hudson putting in an exceptionally fine debut (her Oscar nomination is entirely merited).
Meanwhile, Eddie Murphy is a revelation as an R&B performer struggling to adapt to changing musical taste. Of the cast, only James Foxx is uncomfortable with his singing duties, but otherwise produces a well-pitched performance as the overly ambitious manager of the Dreamettes.
With its giddy musical numbers, garish design and excellent montage (especially the mixing in of documentary footage from some of the era’s Civil Rights demonstration), Dreamgirls may just be the dream ticket to get you through these winter months.