Thursday, January 04, 2007

Merry New Year!

I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist! If you don't get the Merry New Year reference, it'll dawn on you eventually. I hope you had a great holiday season and are ready for a phenomenal 2007 - I know I am!

Like many people, I went to see Dreamgirls over the holidays and, overall, I liked it very much. For those who have not seen the movie be warned - there are several spoilers below.

I was not blown away by Jennifer Hudson, but I give her extra credit for being in her first movie ever and holding her own with proven actors like Jaime Foxx and Danny Glover. I think she was just right. And of course her singing was amazing and not just the showstopper And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going. I am not an American Idol fan, so this is the first time that I've really had a chance to hear her voice and I've got to say, ole Simon Cowell had a good reason to eat crow on Oprah. You can't fool with people when God's hand is on them Simon!
Contrary to popular criticism, I don’t think that Beyoncé sleepwalked through the movie at all. This is the best I've ever seen her in a film. I definitely detected some growth as an actor and I could see that she put a lot of work into her role. My only quibble (beyond the Diana Ross thing - more on that later) is that Deena didn't give Curtis enough “mofo please” looks and attitude for my taste. Her eyes always seemed to be pleading with him, as if she was still the little girl who didn’t want to get in trouble. Only in the scene where she finally left him (and when she sang Listen) did I see that fire that I wanted to see when they were at the dinner table. When Curtis did his little tear down, only to come back with “I forgive you Deena”, I expected a “mofo please” look and then some. Instead, she seemed more confused than pissed.

My blog bud Glib Gurl, seemed a bit confused by Beyoncé/Deena's powerhouse performance of Listen. Well, Glib, I’ve got to say, I think that the point of Listen, which was written specifically for the movie is (or was!) a potential Oscar nomination for Best Song - NOT Deena’s sudden voice change. That was my first thought when I heard that Listen would be on her B'Day album and in the Dreamgirls film. Of course now, Beyoncé and her reps say that wasn't the case at all - and I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. But it's called show business for a reason people!

Anika Noni Rose was also very good – and I would expect no less from a Tony winner. I expect more out of theater actors anyway. In fact, it was great to see Ken Page (as Max the club owner) in the film. He was in the original Broadway production of Ain't Misbehavin with Nell Carter, who turned down the role of Effie on Broadway but I digress. I agree with the critics that marveled at Anika's vacillations between “lustiness and decency” and I hope to see her again on the big screen sooner, not later.

I liked Jaime Foxx the best - for his acting. However, I was disappointed by his singing, especially because he can sing. Yes, I saw him tell Oprah that Curtis was "not a real singer" and he didn't want to do too many takes. Hmmm... Curtis was a snake, yes. However, Dreamgirls is a musical and people in musicals can SING! What happened with Steppin’ To the Bad Side for instance? That said, I still wouldn't mind seeing Jaime play James Brown when the time comes. If he can channel the Godfather of Soul the way he did Ray Charles, he may very well be steppin' to his second Oscar.

Speaking of Merry New Year (hint, hint) I thought Eddie Murphy was definitely good, especially in the scenes with Lorrell. And the scene at the whites-only club in Miami was worth the price of admission alone! I think Eddie may suffer a bit from people who’ve been watching his old SNL bits on You Tube (Hot tub! Gonna get in de water!) Also, James Brown’s death on opening day also brought it back to mind for a lot of people. And that's not to mention the infamous, politically-incorrect Hymietown skit. I always thought that he (like Jaime Foxx later) had real musical talent that was obscured by his comedic talents. Any comedian will have this problem. For instance, several years ago, I saw the comedian Eddie Griffin perform with a band and he wasn’t half bad. But I can imagine the grief he’d get if they ever really went anywhere.

I think the montage sequences in Dreamgirls robbed the story of some of the dramatic tension, especially with Deena and Effie. You never saw the tension of their deteriorating friendship or Effie losing her mind over Curtis to the point of wailing And I'm Telling You. It all seemed rather sudden to me but I guess that Heavy recording session was supposed to suffice. And I thought it was hilarious how the Deena character was just a sweet little innocent lamb that had nothing to do with all of the dirt Curtis was doing. In the Broadway play, Deena was in on it from the beginning and she couldn’t wait to step into the solo spotlight. Heck, that's the first thing I remember about Sheryl Lee Ralph. The first time I ever heard of her was when she made a splash on Broadway as the "evil" Deena who "was not" modeled after Diana Ross in any way, shape or form.
And the Diana Ross rip-offs, er, uh, I mean inspirations... Can we talk?
I know the filmmakers keep saying that Dreamgirls has nothing to do with Diana Ross and that they were only “inspired” by her, but dang!

The Broadway musical took great pains (legally and creatively) to avoid direct references to the Supremes and Motown, but the movie goes even further. Whereas something like (married) Jimmy and Lorrell’s affair could be anybody, anywhere in the music industry – there were certain scenes that were blatant rip offs of Diana Ross’s life and career that went far beyond the Broadway production. It’s hilarious to me, because everyone keeps saying “no, no, it’s not Diana Ross’s life…” Well, they’re right. They took from other Motown lives as well, but I guess it’s fine because they are, in many ways, depending on the ignorance of the young audience. Of course, I’m only in my late thirties, so I’m sure someone older than me would spot even more than I did. The most glaring for me was the photoshoot sequence (see Diana's Mahogany photo shoot sequence complete with Cleopatra costumes.) The farewell performance with Effie mirrors Diana's famous farewell performance with the Supremes in Las Vegas in 1970. She left for her solo career and was replaced by Jean Terrell. And Deena walking through the audience (Hello everyone...what a wonderful evening...) straight up vintage Diana Ross singing Reach Out and Touch in concert. Curtis pushing for Deena to play Cleopatra (and Deena thinking it's ridiculous because the character is 16-years-old throughout the movie) reminded me of Diana getting criticized for being too old to play Dorothy in The Wiz. James "Thunder" Early getting his "message" album rejected by Curtis mirrors Berry Gordy's reaction to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album. As the story goes, Gordy hated it and wanted Marvin (Marvin!) to stick to his Hitchhike sound, but Marvin wasn't having it. He fought Gordy (his brother-in-law at the time) and (Thank God!) What's Going On was released. Thankfully Marvin had his own brand of Thunder!

And how about the fake Michael Jackson kid talking about "I'm waiting for Deena." Cha-mon now...

Hilarious!


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7 Comments:

Blogger Sangindiva said...

GUUURL!!
You gave a GREAT breakdown of the movie.
I saw it twice. I was impressed with the musical sequences but I think Beyonce's blank stares and confused looks threw me. I just don't think she deserved the best actress nod- but I don't think she'll win anyway so it dosen't matter.
Anika-was FANTASTIC! she had so much depth to her character.

Overall it was a great movie- but It is lagging horribly at the box office :(

Great recap! OH and um,
FIRST!!!

January 4, 2007 at 2:42 AM  
Blogger Nichelle said...

Hey Sangin - Merry New Year!

I think the music sequences were great too (except STTBS).

My problem with the box office numbers is that it was only released in 852 theaters around the much-touted Christmas opening day. Only today did I hear that it will be released in the rest of the country on January 12th.

WHY????????? Why did they do that???

They are messing with the money there if you ask me! Then, the powerful "theys" in Hollywood can still say, "but black films don't make any money..."

January 4, 2007 at 3:01 AM  
Anonymous Diva (in Demand) said...

You had a very interesting take on the movie. And THANK YOU for reminding people that the whole sweet innocent Deena role was written just for the movie's sake. Like you said, in the stageplay production, Deena was sneaky and conniving!

And how do you take a production as "big" as this one and only release it in limited theaters on Christmas day. That's a set up if I ever saw one.

January 4, 2007 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Glib Gurl said...

Great review! I actually liked "Steppin' to the Bad Side" quite a bit :) Oh, and as for "Listen" being Beyonce's chance for an Oscar/Golden Globe - I figured as much (cuz you know Daddy Knowles would raise much sam if his baby didn't get extra special treatment) -- but, like you, I like to think that maybe, just maybe artistic integrity triumphed over greed. *shrug*

That's really interesting about the stage play showing Deena as being conniving and whatnot. Were she and Effie actually close friends in the beginning? While I'm certainly not an expert on defamation/libel/slander, I don't get how the movie would stir up legal trouble while the stage play would not. (Again, must've been the work of Daddy Knowles -- cuz you know that the script wasn't just a mirror of Diana's life, but Beyonce's D-Child days as well!) I still love the movie and plan to see it again :)

January 4, 2007 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Nichelle said...

Diva in Demand - Yep, looks like a set up to me - but, maybe there's some weird Hollywood math behind it that will work out in the end. Maybe!

Glib - Naw, "Daddy" Knowles is not that powerful - at least not in Hollywood!

I don't think Diana Ross or Berry Gordy would bother to sue at this point. For what? I think they both will just continue to ignore it.

The only reason I just couldn't ignore the obvious Diana references is the constant insistence that Dreamgirls and the Deena character had nothing or "very little" to do with her. Maybe they have to do that for legal reasons, but it irks me nonetheless.

January 4, 2007 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Will said...

This was a great review! I agree 1000% with it.

Merry New Year to you! :)

January 10, 2007 at 5:06 PM  
Blogger Nichelle said...

Merry New Year to you too Will!

January 10, 2007 at 5:50 PM  

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