Well, here it is. For months now this has been the crowd-pleaser whispered to be the front runner for 2006's Best Picture Oscar. Ever since its debut on Broadway, 25 years ago, Dreamgirls has been making audiences get up out of their chairs and cheer. This afternoon when I finally caught the film adaptation of the show, I did indeed feel compelled to get up out of my chair ... to leave. No, I'm not saying this film was so bad that I left before it was over, but I wasn't exactly feeling the need to stay for the credits. I mean they were the credits where each actor is given their own little video montage along with their name, I usually stick around for those. However, after sitting through 2 long hours of Bill Condon's new film, I was pretty much montage-ed out. Yes, I'm sad to report back that Dreamgirls is a bust, it's not everything you've been hearing, in fact, it's far less. It's more or less a parade of one music video styled montage after another, with more songs than I could ever possibly count. By about halfway through I wasn't able to stand the singing anymore, this film was like listening to the radio for two hours while flashing lights went off around the room. This is what's going to get the big prize on awards night? Am I just allergic to Oscar's choices for Best Picture lately? Maybe, but I'm also not the biggest fan of musicals in the first place. I mean, hey, don't sweat it Dreamgirls, I don't even like Singin' in the Rain.
However, for what it's worth, I can at least see the value in Singin' in the Rain, and I understand why fans of the genre would enjoy it, it's just not my cup of tea. Can't say the same for Dreamgirls, which I would think would be a major disappointment to any musical fan, not just myself. There's absolutely no inventive flair anywhere in this flick, I can't even see what Condon thought was going to work about it. The bottom line is that the film is monotonous in a big way. If there's one thing I can compliment about Hollywood's old-fashioned musicals it was at least the lavish sets and elaborate dance sequences. The classic directors like Stanley Donen got their films to work when they would simply cut loose, both An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain had wild sequences where for, 15 minutes or so, the rest of the film was put on hold to make way for some brilliant uses of color and movement. These segments were fun to watch, and they worked. Not half as well as the pioneers in Britain, Powell and Pressburger, were doing with their operatic sequences in The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman, but it was close anyway. There's some musicals that I can at least admire because they are so inventive and offer an alternative to straight, standard narrative stories. Dreamgirls, sadly, has the worst of both worlds. The songs all sound like minor variations on the same tune, the visuals are as unimaginative as you can get, and the story is so trite and predictable that we're checking our watches as we call out each story development, right on schedule. what? They got their big break? Cue the"rise to the top" montage! Hey! They're getting famous? Cue one of the girls to get jealous of the more famous one! It's laughable. The film attempts to glitz it up with its run-around routine all the while, pumping that Supremes-esque music through the speakers and speeding through the "story developments" with one montage after another. I literally don't think there was even five minutes of real, un-broken cinema before the next montage would whisk us from a scene with the girls backstage before a concert to ... yet another scene with the girls backstage before a concert. Yes, I think 90% of the film takes place on or behind a stage in one capacity or another, which, y'know, doesn't exactly make for interesting sequences when they all take place in the exact same setting. As a heads-up to Condon, we all realize that these girls are probably pretty good at singing, we can see that by the fact that they are selling alot of records and making alot of money, WE DON'T NEED TO SEE THEM "IN CONCERT" 30 TIMES BEFORE IT HITS US. Once or twice would have done just fine. To add to the ungodly amount of songs that accumulate through the 30 performances and the 80 montages (those numbers are meant as jokes, but part of me doubts that they're exaggerated at all.) we also get 5 or so ridiculous points where the girls just start singing for no apparent reason. Oh yeah, wait, there is a reason; the songs work as a really nice cop-out for the writers to explain the girls' feelings without having to make them , I dunno, reveal it through their dialogue or maybe even, y'know, act. No, no, why do that when we can add in one more montage? Hey, this movie stuff is easy!
As I sat there in the theater checking out all the flashing lights and 60's costumes, I recall the film being quite lackluster, but not quite this abysmal. Yet now, as I try to think of something good to write about it, I'm at quite a loss. I can't think of one damn positive thing to say about the film. Uhhhh... Beyonce is a good singer? ... that's about all I'm getting. But, I've been hearing her sing for about 10 years on the radio, it's no secret. She did a nice job with the acting, but I'm not sure it was anything more than a very capable performance, nothing standout. Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy have been getting all the praise for carrying the film, and while that may be, there was nothing about either one that saved me from utter boredom. Murphy has a good time with his role and does a very good job, much better than I expected, but still, without some good direction to give the flick a jumpstart, all of the performances are wasted. The cinematography is slightly okay, but all I can really recall is a bunch of crane shots and some very confused editing that seemed to jump from wide shots and right into close-ups without warning and just treated the montages as throw aways. I see no rhyme or reason to anything happening in the film, nor do I see the lucidity and freedom of a true artist at work. Dreamgirls is far, far too calculated to come off as anything resembling a mentally freeing film experience, there's nothing that comes close to audacious or grand about its style, it's all very earthbound and seemingly concerned with resembling real life. This verite approach is ultimately undone by the aspects of this mess that show a slight bit of creative freedom, like having spot lights appear out of nowhere in the film's few non-stage scenes. All in all, the script leads us through the sparkling idiocy with nary a choice of our own on which characters we like/dislike. The characters we are supposed to like are the most developed ones, the ones we're not supposed to like are the 2-dimensional cardboard cut-outs with one-track minds. The dialogue is, again, serviceable for its purpose of filling the short gaps between the music, its clear it was never designed to be anything more making it the one aspect of the film that entirely succeeds (zing!). I can't blame the direction enough for most of the film's failure, I mean maybe all the montages were written into the script, but for God's sake, they must have been avoidable in some way. The production design does a nice job, the costumes and sets are nice looking and I really can't complain about them at all, they look great. I really hate to give the film such a low rating, it's not often I can't find some redeeming qualities in a film, and while I suppose there are a few here, they are quite few and very far between. This flick seems to be pleasing audiences, so I guess all those millions of dollars and Oscar nominations will console them as they try to get over a college student bashing them for two paragraphs. I wish them luck.
So yeah, if you haven't gotten the main idea of this article, I'll state it out plain and simple (maybe I should sing it?): this move sucked. Alot. Don't see it. It's a waste of money. It's a disaster on all creative levels, I can't understand how something that looks like it was tossed together in a few movie moguls spare time could be grounds for the kind of praise this thing is getting, but maybe I'm not on the musical wavelength and never have been. Whatever the reason, you can do oh so much better right now at the box office. It's the end of the year, the good movies are out, so wait to watch the bad ones like this on DVD if you have to. You'll notice this review is surrounded by other films that I rated very highly, so see them instead. Do it quick too, lots of great flicks are being widely distributed now, but they won't be around for long. I can guarantee, in a month, we'll be making our way through one dead winter movie season.