Let’s get this straight: Beyonce Knowles’s (The Pink Panther) role in Dreamgirls is to play a member of an all-girl group? That’s probably the biggest stretch for a thespian since Eminem as a white rapper in 8 Mile! Oh, relax! You know we’re only kidding.
This rags-to-riches-to-backstabbing story begins with the Dreamettes—Deena (Knowles), Effie (American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson in her Golden Globe-winning role) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose, Surviving Christmas)—hitting the big time and being picked to sing back-up for Jimmy “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy, Dr. Doolittle, in his Oscar-nominated role). As their star shines brighter, however, the girls start to see the dirtier side of the music business—and it eventually tears them apart.
The plot may be a typical one that we’ve seen in other music-themed films like That Thing You Do!—and even in some real life scenarios—but what sets it apart is the cast. Hudson, in particular, stands out for displaying gusto and resolve with such raw emotion that she seemingly becomes the de facto central character. The other cast member that pleasantly surprises is Murphy. Unlike his comedic peers, like Robin Williams, who decided to take a turn for the dramatic, his onscreen persona is still instantly recognizable. There is no “funny Eddie” and “serious Eddie;” he utilizes his strengths and makes them work for him, no matter what the role calls for—and that’s why his performance is so impressive. Beyonce Knowles is also convincing, if a tad under-utilized as a small-town girl turned music diva.
The music works well with the rest of the film, not interrupting the flow of the story. In fact, at times, the emotion of the characters comes out so clearly in song that it’s hard for us to imagine the film being as effective if it was purely dialogue-driven.
It’s clear why Dreamgirls was such a hit at the Globes. Don’t be surprised if it makes a killing at the Oscars too.
You’ll dig Dreamgirls, if you enjoy: Chicago, Moulin Rouge!, Evita…or VH1’s Behind The Music.