It is with great relief that I can report the following: My enthusiasm for Bill Condon’s film version of the musical “Dreamgirls,” which we saw a portion of last May at the Cannes Film Festival, was well-founded.
Last night, at the very first screening of the film, the invited audience cheered, laughed and applauded throughout the show. It’s not a leap to say that “Dreamgirls” will be a huge hit, an Oscar nominee and the de facto winner of the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical.
More importantly: “Dreamgirls” will bring Eddie Murphy his first nomination ever for a phenomenal performance as a soul singer who combines the personalities of Wilson Pickett, James Brown and Marvin Gaye.
And the movie introduces a megawatt talent in the form of Jennifer Hudson, a singer who lost out to Fantasia on “American Idol” and now will likely be giving acceptance speeches for months to come.
For months I’ve been telling you that "Dreamgirls" was the film to beat at the next Academy Awards, and several other pundits have followed in suit. So yes, it is very satisfying to report that Condon has made a wildly entertaining, exciting and moving film that should draw all kinds of audiences when it’s released next month.
But the highlight of the endeavor is Hudson, playing the part of Effie White, which Jennifer Holliday made famous on Broadway. That’s not just because Effie gets to sing the two best songs in the show.
But you can’t change the fact that when Hudson launches into “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” all hope is lost for any actor who wants to come close to her in this movie or any other this year. The song is sensational, the presentation is dynamic, but the performer is simply stellar, bar none.
Ironically, I’m not sure that Hudson even has a recording contract to this day. She didn’t have one when we met her at Cannes, and I’m told she’s still on her own.
Considering the poor state of the record industry, this news is appalling. Hudson has the potential to be Whitney, Mariah, Natalie and a dozen others all rolled into one.
This is not to say that "Dreamgirls" is perfect. It’s not. In fact, the film is a tad too long and suffers from strange production infelicities that perhaps will be rectified before its official release.
There are a few problems with the sound, especially in the synching, that can be distracting. And maybe it was the print we saw, but I thought the colors could have been sharper. There was a dullness to some of the lighting.
If you don’t know the story of "Dreamgirls," here it is: A group of girls from Detroit called the Dreamettes — played by Hudson, Beyonce Knowles and Anika Noni Rose and modeled on the Supremes — are taken under the wing of a Berry Gordy-type rising record mogul, played by Jamie Foxx.
Like the Supremes, they start out singing background vocals for a local star. The Supremes did it for Marvin Gaye; the Dreamettes harmonize behind James Earley (Murphy).
Effie (Hudson) is the talented lead singer of the group. But Foxx switches her with Deena (Beyonce), who is the stand in for Diana Ross in this roman-a-clef retelling of the Motown fable.
Eventually, Effie is pushed aside entirely, which is what happened to the Supremes’ Florence Ballard, who died in poverty and sickness in real life. Deena goes on to make movies and become an international superstar.
To say that "Dreamgirls" is the Motown story only limits it. It’s the story of all show business, and encompasses many facets of the classic R&B and pop worlds.
There are numerous stories in rock history of bands firing members and replacing them, of one member becoming a huge star while the others languished in obscurity. In that sense, the lessons learned from "Dreamgirls" are universal.
"Dreamgirls" also boasts a wonderfully talented cast. In addition to Hudson, Murphy, Beyonce and Foxx, there is nice work from Danny Glover, Sharon Leal, Hinton Battle, Keith Robinson and original Broadway cast member Loretta Devine as a sultry singer.
For now, though, the important thing is that "Dreamgirls" finally has been seen, and it lives up to all expectations. Paramount should be pleased. Put it right at the head of a list of best films of the year so far including “Bobby,” “The Departed,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “World Trade Center,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “United 93,” “Babel” and a few that are still to be seen.
There’s another, too, called “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which I will tell you about tomorrow.
The reports from the World Music Awards in London last night are not good for Michael Jackson. He let Chris Brown perform “Thriller” and only sang a few lines of “We Are the World.” He is said to have been unable to hit the notes in the song, too.
But I can tell you that as predicted, Jackson tried to back out of doing the show after he arrived. A backstage source said Jackson wanted to leave and that a car was brought into the backstage area for him. Luckily, someone convinced him to stay. Jackson asked Lindsay Lohan, the show’s host, to introduce him.
Sources also tell me the show — which was taped live for broadcast — was very disorganized and poorly planned. Jackson and his entourage were — maybe still are being — put up at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel after enduring a night at the four-star Soho hotel, Hempel House.
That stay was peculiar in and of itself, since the Hempel is on a side street and has little protection from fans and the public.
Meantime, the roar of bad press can be read this morning in London, where Jackson is raked over the coals in every single newspaper for an embarrassing performance. It turns out the appearance at the World Music Awards was, as predicted, a terrible idea.
From the descriptions, it was poorly and hastily produced, under-rehearsed and undirected. This should come has no surprise, since Jackson hasn’t got a proper manager or any handlers who know anything about show business — just a nanny and a press rep.
But Jackson has so systematically destroyed all his relationships, there isn’t anyone left to take charge of his bizarre, downwardly spiraling career.