Wednesday, February 07, 2007

‘DREAMGIRLS’ (or, the Musical Guest Blog)

This post does not really belong on this blog – although Bollywood movies are usually musicals, albeit in a very different style from the Western style of musical. But it doesn’t belong on my other blog either, and I just HAVE to post it somewhere. So I’m posting it in the same spirit as the Nollywood guest blog I posted a while ago. This one is about musicals.

I am the queen of musicals – I just love them. I love that unique blend of song, dance and drama. I love a well-crafted musical with just the right number of songs, inserted in just the right places. It fills me with delight, it sends shivers down my spine, it makes me smile, cry and laugh – it is a pure joy and a special kind of release. I love the ‘fantasy-ness’ of musicals… nothing allows you to escape into another world better than a really good musical. For me the best musicals are fantasies which still manage to have strong elements of social relevance and realism – movies which are escapist but still have a strong resonance. And of course, the songs have to be solid – in terms of lyrical content as well as the music itself.

Obviously, the stage is the true home of the musical, but for those of us who can’t afford the ticket prices (except on very special occasions), the film versions will have to do. In addition, movie musicals give us the opportunity to see musicals which are no longer on stage and are unlikely to ever be revived – it’s a special but very rare treat when the stage actors get to re-interpret their roles onscreen – Rex Harrison and Yul Brynner got this opportunity for the legendary performances in My Fair Lady and The King and I, but their female counterparts didn’t. (I sometimes wish I could go back in time and space just to watch Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews do My Fair Lady on Broadway – and I still feel bad that we didn’t get to see Julie as ‘Eliza’ on celluloid).

Musicals tend to be longer than 90 minutes because of the songs, and for that reason can be difficult to adapt to the standard film format. Being a Bollywood fan, I obviously have no problem with ‘longer’ movies, so I get a bit miffed when the quality of a musical is sacrificed just to get it to be the ‘right’ length.

I think it’s a well-known fact that Hollywood has lost its knack for the musical – the ‘golden age’ of the musical is over. For this reason, my favourite Hollywood musicals are the oldies – the ones with Rodgers & Hammerstein music (South Pacific, Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music etc), the fabulous films from the days of Judy Garland, Leslie Caron, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse et al (Easter Parade, Gigi, The Wizard of Oz, High Society, Singing in the Rain, Lili, Hans Christian Andersen etc).
Moving forward a little, I love Streisand’s work (Yentl, Hello Dolly) and of course movies like Cabaret (Liza was tres hot), Victor/Victoria (possibly my fave Julie Andrews performance ever - although my childhood bond with The Sound of Music constantly battles that assessment), then forward to Grease, and then the 80s ‘dance movies’ which featured strong soundtracks even though they weren’t musicals – Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, Breakdance. Of course, I should mention that Disney has kept the musical going as far as animation is concerned, from the innovative (at the time) blend of animation and human actors in Mary Poppins, to modern animated classics like The Lion King (with its brilliant music), The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

The more recent Hollywood musicals, while not bad, do not, in my opinion, measure up to the oldies. I mean, ‘Moulin Rouge’ was ok, but it’s not the kind of movie I’d see again – ‘Chicago’ was better because the performances were stronger (especially Catherina Zeta-Jones’s excellent Oscar-winning turn) but… still no masterpiece. For me, those movies just lacked some of the sense of fun and abandon the old movies had… that joy… that heart… not that the oldies all had that, of course, but I’ll come back to that. I’ve enjoyed the modern movies which were not technically musicals but which made extensive use of music (because they were about real/fictional musicians) a lot more – movies like Ray, Selena, Gypsy, The Rose (I do love the Divine Miss M when she sings - nothing like it), What's Love Got to Do With It (Angela Bassett was robbed of the Oscar), Walk the Line (love it), the Judy Garland Story (with a fantastic Judy Davis) and Hustle n Flow (don't let me get started on Terrence Howard now), among others.

Dreamgirls’ is a treat for me because it’s the best of both worlds – it’s about musicians (so much drama there) and it’s also a musical in the true sense of the word – with music actually telling the story. It’s based on (in a satirical style) some great musical history (probably my favourite era of modern music) – the fabulous Motown day with the diva-licious Diana (read Deena) Ross and the Supremes (read Dreams). I love the fact that although I missed the famous Broadway run of the original stage musical, a worthy tribute (yet, from all accounts with its own ‘personality’) has been made.

Dreamgirls is a thoroughly modern movie (especially in terms of choreography) but it has the feel and the heart of many of the oldies. I love the passion and freshness you can feel from the filmmakers – this is where I think Bill Condon succeeded the most. Like I said, even some of the classic old musicals sometimes suffered from a lack of heart – ‘My Fair Lady’ is a good example. It had all the right elements – Rex Harrison at his best in an Oscar-winning performance, great sets and costumes, technically almost-perfect in terms of production quality, Audrey Hepburn in a very good performance (while I wish Julie had gotten the role, I can’t deny that Audrey did her best – even if she couldn’t sing her own songs). But it just lacked heart – it just lacked that freshness – that enthusiasm and joie-de-vivre that you need for a really good musical, which is what films like ‘Singing in the Rain’ had – and ‘Dreamgirls’ has that in spades.

Where shall I begin? The performances – Jennifer Hudson’s performance has been praised to high heavens by almost everyone else and I see why. She is amazing in this film – her onscreen presence is so powerful yet so natural. I actually missed her in the scenes she was absent from. She had such depth in this performance, she never over-acts, she just flows with all this real emotion – and she has such confidence that it’s amazing to think that this is her first movie. And that voice… whoa… it sent shivers down my spine. I have the legendary Tony Awards ceremony Jennifer Holliday rendition of ‘And I am Telling you I’m Not Going’ on my PC and listen to it (and marvel at it, thinking no-one but no-one could ever sing the song as good as that) all the time… but this Jennifer H. has really done justice to the song – and to ‘I am Changing’, and all the other songs. Just a great, great voice… but more on Ms. Hudson later.

My second favourite performance in this film came from a veteran, Mr. Eddie Murphy. I love his old comedies (Trading Places, Coming to America, the Beverly Hills Cop movies, Bowfinger (with Steve Martin - one of my all-time faves)) but it’s been a while since Eddie did an ‘adult’ movie… he’s been doing lots of family stuff like ‘Shrek’ and ‘Dr. Dolittle’… and this film made me realise how much I’ve missed him. This role ('James Thunder Early') was perfect for him… cocky yet vulnerable, funny as heck, crazy, tragic, self-absorbed yet so giving and generous, so over-the-top but also somehow contained and sensitively interpreted. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Jamie Foxx and Anika Noni Rose also did great in this movie – they both nailed their roles – fantastic performances… Jamie’s range as Curtis was great. Keith Robinson was really good (plus he was too cute – I wanted him to be my little brother)… and Beyonce… well, she did well too. Markedly better than her past performances, but definitely not worthy of a Golden Globe nomination (what were they thinking?) Having said that, she did do very well – she should be proud. She held her own - but not a patch on Jennifer. I hear she’s a bit upset at all the attention Jennifer’s getting – how very ‘Dreamgirls-y’! She did write a great song though ("Listen") but then we already know Beyonce can write a good song. The rest of the cast – Danny Glover, Sharon Leal etc was really good – good casting.

The choreography – Fatima Robinson nailed it. She nailed it! Totally reminiscent of the time period under reference, but also fresh and classy. Fantastic – one up for the MTV music-video generation. While Condon and his gang can’t take credit for the high lyrical quality of the wonderful songs (although some great new songs were written for the film too), they were beautifully arranged and performed – very very good work – I must get the soundtrack. The sets and costumes – lovely – from the Dreams' costumes (the later ones – after they had made some money) to the black suit Beyonce had on when she went to see hubby – so 70s (with all the ruffles) yet so contemporary.

But the directing, editing and cinematography deserve honours too. So lovingly done… this film was just beautifully shot. So many great examples – the use of lighting and shadow in ‘And I am Telling You…’, the way they shot the first Jimmy Early song sequences – heck, the way they shot all the song sequences. So seamless and beautiful, so well-paced – courtesy of Condon’s genius script. The script is dramatic, exciting but also hilarious, really nicely done by someone who obviously truly loves the stage musical. I’m trying to think of something to fault this movie on, but I can’t – maybe the next time I see it, I’ll be able to nitpick (actually, no I won’t) – but for now I’m just loving it.

And I’m loving Jennifer Hudson – what a story… first of all, she accomplished the feat of trimming down from a size 22 to a 12 before auditioning for American Idol. While on AI, despite winning the admiration of veteran musicians like Sir Elton John, she got voted off by America (I remember her saying ‘well, if America don’t like me, what can I do about it?’ or something like that, when the results were announced). Instead of disappearing into oblivion like all the other AI rejects, she got this role… and she absolutely KILLED it!! Amazing… talk about the original Dreamgirl. And now Clive whathisname (Clive Davis?) is falling over himself to give her a record deal (after turning her down a couple of years ago). How hotttt is that? Of course, there’s the usual crowd of naysayers saying that Jennifer will fall prey to the so called ‘curse of Effie White’ – i.e. that, like Jennifer Holliday, she will always be seen as Effie White and nothing more. To that I say, whatever!! (I know, how very eloquent of me) Well, I predict that this Jennifer has more up her sleeve… and I’m rooting for her.

Obviously, I think Dreamgirls is a great production – I think I may have to see it again before it leaves the cinemas – and it’s definitely going in my DVD collection when the DVD comes out. What more can I say? I just loved it.

I know this was a loooong review - but bear with me, it's not everyday I see a movie I can really rave about!


Uzo said...

Can i first of all say that you are amazing. You review movies like a professional. Wow. You have the patience to put down so eloquently your thoughts. Bravo.

On to the movie. I loved this movie and i wept for Jennifer. She killed it. She stole every scene she was in. Its hard for me to believe this is her first flick. She already has the record contract with Clive Davis and he is a star maker (Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross et all) so i know she will be great. And that voice. Wow. I thought no one could EVER top Jennifer Holiday's version of And i am telling you but oh wow.

Eddie Murphy i felt for. This man is great. Jamie Foxx - oh the slime ball in the movie i got. Beyonce was just pkay. Nothing spectacular. The pictures of her as the object of her husband's adoration are quite nice

Anyway: As a Motwon baby and therefore officionado, i smiled as i recognised some famous scenes from reality: Effie is of course Florence Ballard who sadly died you (if i remember correctly), There is a shot of Marvin Gaye singing a duet while wearing the colorful woollen hat - that's a classic Marvin Gaye picture with his duet partner Tami Terrell who died in his arms on stage after being hit on the head with a hammer by her lover Jimmy Ruffin ( a member of the temptations) who died early and poor.

Then there was the shot of the brothers woth the afros - the jackson 5 with little michael even delivering the famous line "i love you girl". There is a shot of a kid staring through the doors with an Afro. Well that's Michael who had a massive crush on Diana Ross and spent a lot of his time staring at her through doors and windows. Oh and a spin on the Michael story: MJ forked out money to give Jimmy Ruffin a proper headstone years after his death.

Jamie Foxx is of course Berry Gordy..I should stop now.

I loved this movie and i can see myself getting the DVD. But what i am most interested in is the soundtrack. WOW.....

Daddy's Girl said...

Whoa... you really are a Motown baby aren't you? Why did you stop - I was loving it. And I love that comment - thank you. I'm sure you will find even more Motown references the next time you see the movie. I got the Jackson 5 reference (so fun), got Berry Gordy, got Florence Ballard. Got Smokey Robinson too - I'm sure you can guess who he was...

But I can't believe I missed Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell doing their duet - now that I think about it, the song they were singing even reminds me of their songs! It's so obvious when I think about it now - and I kept thinking 'there is something about that hat Eddie is wearing'. Duh! Thanks for pointing that out to me.

I also missed the adoring young MJ - just thought it was some random kid - thanks for pointing that out too.

It's a really fun movie - we should have seen it together!

9ja Opeke said...

You will do acceptably well working with TV Guide (your review)... I haven’t watched "Dreamgirls" yet (I know what you are thinking, "Oh girl! You are missing.") But I will have to watch the movie pretty soon, hopefully before Jenifer Hudson grabs the Oscar for best supporting female actress.
I am also passionate about Musical movies...I guess that is why I love Disney movies…”Cinderella”, “Aladdin”, “Highschool Musical”, “Jump In” and etc, I was trying to watch “Into the Woods” (1991) starring Bernadette Peters (unable to complete it) but it was really interesting and it was done on stage. I am sure you will enjoy watching this also.

Tohou Lidia said...

I adored this movie and as a fan of Jackson 5 and Michael's solo career i was so happy with all the references to Motown! I'm so obsessed with Jackson 5 that when the kid who was playing the fake Michael yelled out "i think i love ya!" (is that hte line he said from "ABC"?) i almost jumped out of my seat in excitement! And Jennifer Hudson? Woah Woah Woah! I have yet to meet a person who've seen this movie and wasn't blown away by her. I usually love Beyonce but although she was her usual gorgeous self, you just connected so much more with Jennifer! Gosh that girl can sing...that song she sang to Jamie Foxx stuck in my head for days. And i agree, Eddie Murphy was awesome. He came second for me as well as the other Dreamette he was having an affair with!

Dan B (no, not Bennett, think harder) said...

Speaking Of Judy Garland, there is an exciting new group on Yahoo called THE JUDY GARLAND EXPERIENCE.
They have ultra rare audio files, amazing photo's, lively discussions, and more! Please check it out.

Daddy's Girl said...

@9ja opeke: Please let me know what you think after seeing the movie - hope you love it as I much as I did. Ok I think I have to look for that movie ('Into the Woods'), thanks for the recommendation.

@tohou lidia: Amy, I totally agree with you - I still find myself humming 'Love you I do' to myself - and I love the Jackson 5 and MJ too - thanks for the photo of Michael and Jermaine on your blog.

@dan b: I'm almost afraid to go there - it sounds so great I might be there for ages! Thanks so much for the recommendation, I am a huge Judy Garland fan.

Anonymous said...

Bollywood films AREN'T musicals - they just films with music videos in it.

Daddy's Girl said...

Thanks for setting me straight, Anon!