And Karen Is Telling You...What She Thought of Dreamgirls.

by Karen Gsteiger

(moderate spoilage takes place)

Perhaps it's an interesting coincidence that Dreamgirls director and screenwriter, Bill Condon, also wrote the screenplay for Chicago because I essentially feel the same about both movies. I enjoyed them both as viewing experiences and don't begrudge the inevitable Oscar wins and might for a hot minute consider their purchase on DVD. (For the record, Mom got me Chicago for Christmas one year, but I don't think I've watched it yet, largely due to my husband's status as TV Tyrant in our home and his aversion to musicals. Oh, and to be fair, I'm the Computer Hog of the house.) But neither movie would be classified as a favorite, nor do they spark a lot of pondering and discussion and internet research on my part. But I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from going to see it, and...well, you get the point, I'm sure.

Dreamgirls. Not quite a "Wow!", but better than "Meh."

Two factors sold me on seeing this film in the theaters. First, I have a real soft spot for Motown and '60s soul. For instilling this appreciation in me, I can thank an Indiana University professor, Glenn Gass, who taught one of my very favorite classes of all time, "The History of Rock and Roll: The '60s." (Professor Gass, if I hadn't gotten into Otis Redding, my life would be so much sorrier now, so thank you.) Motown naturally presents a lot of opportunities for drama: racism that the artists had to overcome to "crossover" into mainstream success; the compromises that the artists had to make to conform to the label's standards; the inevitable fallout that results from whirlwind success--broken relationships, drug addiction, achieving worldwide fame, only to be shunted aside for the next pop culture fad. Good stuff, plus the music from that time kicks ass.

Of course, Dreamgirls is not about the Motown label and Berry Gordy, Jr. And certainly has nothing to do with Diana Ross. But anyway.

The other factor that persuaded me to leave my comfy couch and TV for the evening and actually go to the theater is that for the most part, Dreamgirls has gotten some rave reviews, especially when it comes to Jennifer Hudson's performance and singing. I was curious to hear "And I Am Telling You, I Am Not Going," which was billed as a showstopper. Plus, I'm thinking that Oscar nominations will result, and I do like to see the major films of the year so that I have films to root for or against.

As most of you are probably aware, Dreamgirls is a musical about the rise and fall of a fictional Supremes-esque girl group. After performing as backup singers for the soulful James "Thunder" Early, our ladies find success. However, tension builds as Effie, the member with the most powerful voice, is pushed to the background, and the thinner, lighter-skinned Deena is made the lead singer. In addition, the group's ambitious and slimy manager, Curtis, leaves Effie for Deena. Effie is eventually thrown out of the group, and just about everyone else sells their souls for a time. I won't totally ruin the ending for you, and it's kind of boring to recap anyway.

So, let's start off with the good:

The music and lyrics sound authentic enough and really make this film enjoyable. I also appreciated that the songs are, for the most part, introduced in a very natural and realistic way. Most of the songs are parts of the performances or rehearsals or recording sessions, as opposed to everyday people just bursting into song and dance. The costumes and wigs are fun, and for the most part, the performances are excellent, even Beyonce! Jaime Foxx is suitably skeevy, and Eddie Murphy has a song at the end that is invigorating at the same time that it's rather sad and pathetic.

And then there's Jennifer Hudson--she really is all that. I found myself riveted every time she entered the scene, and her singing will raise the hairs on your forearms, in a good way. "And I Am Telling You..." is a showstopper, thanks to her powerful delivery. In lesser hands, it probably wouldn't be that outstanding of a song, but she will move you not only with her singing but also with her emotional acting. If you have ever been betrayed by people you love, you will feel this aria of pain. American Idol can suck my hog because Jennifer Hudson is fantastic and lives up to the considerable hype.

The bad:

Really, the only beef I have with this film is that it felt soooooooooooo long. The pacing was pretty slow in parts. It felt as though the Dreamgirls were James Early's backup singers forever, and then after Effie leaves the group, I kept waiting for them to wrap things up. I guess that's the whole second act of the musical, though. The film just isn't as strong without Jennifer Hudson, so you wind up spending most of the second half waiting for her to re-enter the picture.

But in the end, you could do much worse than spending an evening with the Dreamgirls. My husband would have died a slow, agonizing death in the theater, but I think it was $10 well spent. Actually, this movie makes me wish that they'd do a theatrical revival because I think it would be a much better stage experience. But fans of Motown and soul and otherwise just excellent singing and acting shouldn't miss Jennifer Hudson's film debut.