Monday, January 15, 2007
I'm getting excited for tonight's Globe ceremony, aren't you? While I wait I've been on a rewatching binge as I finalize decisions for my own personal "if I had an Oscar ballot" annual prize frenzy. In the past two days I've gone back to Little Children, Dreamgirls and The Black Dahlia -- quite a strange triple. But let's talk about Dreamgirls for now.
It helps to have your expectations lowered. That's no doubt been a hurdle for this musical all month since it opened after nearly an entire year of hoopla. The second time the performances felt more relaxed, less edited together. And it is pretty thrilling to finally see a musical where the stars can all actually sing. Consensus can often be wrong but in this case the media fervor for Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson is appropriate. They're highly entertaining, funny and best in show by a mile. Anika Noni Rose (who I adored from Broadway's Caroline or Change) has a terrific moment here and there (I adore her sungthrough climax "Lorell loves Jimmy") but she's largely sidelined.
Unfortunately the movie still seems hobbled by star demands: I like Beyoncé's "Listen" and it is not as jarringly out of place narratively as I felt on my virgin screening. In fact, it makes a nice second act counter to Jennifer Hudson's first act climax even its origins are in a bone being thrown to a big star. And speaking of bones thrown: the endless reaction shot closeups to/for Jamie Foxx absolutely kill scenes wherein you don't want or need to be looking at him. He's a distraction throughout.
The other flaw that will surely be counted as a strength at the Oscars is in the design. John Myhre has won two Oscars now for art direction, once for boring work on Chicago and the second for beautiful but hardly award worthy efforts on Memoirs of a Geisha which my friend MaryAnn Johansson described thusly "...shot at the Japanese pavilion at Epcot Center." It will be absolutely maddening if Myhre wins a third for this, especially when you consider the competition. Dreamgirls is often glossy and pleasing to look at but it's the costumes that are throwing off that lovely spark. On a second viewing you notice how flat and personality free the rest of it is. But the great hair, the diva makeup, the glittery dresses -- you just don't notice that there's not much else going on visually.
Happily for audiences, Dreamgirls has enough in the plus column: Eddie Murphy's entertainer instincts, the costumes, and Jennifer Hudson's powerhouse pipes that cover for any of its left feet elsewhere.
Tonight Dreamgirls will probably win the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical (though an upset by Devil Wears Prada or Little Miss Sunshine would be welcome) and it occurred to me that whatever and whoever wins, I'll be happy. My mind lept to the Oscars and I realized, with some surprise, that I don't much care there either --about the wins I mean. I feel free.
Last year I cared too much.
But mainstream cinema had an off year and since Oscar largely rewards mainstream efforts, I'm finding it much easier to take off my film fanatic hat and just wear my awards junkie cap. It's a good feeling for a change. As much as I think that The Departed is superior to Little Miss Sunshine which is superior to The Queen which is superior to Dreamgirls which is superior to Babel... in truth the range in quality isn't so different that I'll be tearing out my hair on Globe, Oscar, or SAG night. No modern classic (Moulin Rouge!, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, etc...) will be getting trounced by something inferior in every way. That's an enormous relief even if it means that the pickings were slim.