Monday, January 15, 2007

A Second Look at Dreamgirls

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.


Anonymous said...

I care a lot because three of my TOP 5 movies are in the race.
But I'd agree there's no masterpiece among them, unlike past few years.

Beau said...

See, the best films of the year IMO (Children of Men, Volver, United 93, Shortbus, Prairie Home, The Fountain) range from superb (Prairie, Volver) to masterpiece (U93, Shortbus, Children of Men, Fountain). Had any of those top six been nom'd, I'd be fighting and reveling in any awards victory they came across. As it is, I'm perfectly content praying for Emily Blunt and Mark Wahlberg to get their deserved statues. Both are phenomenal.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear. Unless Volver sneaks a lone director nod, I could care less about the top 2 awards.

The thrill of seeing Mirren finally win an Oscar will be muted by (a) the fact that we KNOW it's going to happen, and (b) she's better in pretty much every single Prime Suspect instalment.

Essentially, I'm just looking forward to see if the 5 assumed actress nominees ALL make it in. Because they're the 5 I'm happy with. The 5 I'm itching to see.



Rob, I'm sure they will the quintupling of
has been set for some time. The only possible upset would be Maggie Gyllenhaal but she's also deserving

so it wouldn't be that upsetting.

it'll be Oscar's best lineup in years and years

Anonymous said...

Yeah, best actress lineup is so amazing this year that they should make it a five-way tie. Since Mirren has it locked, I just can't wait to see who wins FILM BiTCH Award /can we vote? I'd give mine to Cruz/. I hope it's not Mirren.

Craig Hickman said...

Dreamgirls lacks historical context?

Interesting. Especially since I saw the movie again today on Martin Luther King Day here in the States and so Effie's speech about MLK cutting a record had a deeper resonance. And if the documentary footage and the film's real time dramatization of the race riots that swept Detroit and other urban centers in the 60s, and the headlines about Vietnam and the reference to Beatlemania, and to Pat Boone ripping off Black music, and to Elvis ripping off Black music, and the pay-for-play machine that defined the pop charts in the 60s and 70s, and the explicit reference to the advent of Black capitalism known as Motown (Madame C.J. Walker preceded Berry Gordy by decades, but Gordy's empire did, in fact, crossover. Walker's, obviously, did not), what more of an historical context were you looking for exactly?

Nice post, Nate.

Though I've now seen Dreamgirls three times, and it continues to improve.

The choreography in "Steppin to the Bad Side" is topnotch. I thought most of the sets were adequate. They didn't distract. But the car dealership was fabulous. And the interior design in the dinner scene is stark and cold and perfect for the content of that scene.

The costumes are off the hook. Absolutely love them. And I wasn't at all distracted by Jamie Foxx (I actually thought he played a very good snake as Mardy kept calling Curtis), but the next time I watch it, I'll see if there are too many reaction shots of him as you observe.

Dreamgirls and The Departed are the only two of the nomiess that I've seen this year, and Dreamgirls was just much more entertaining for me than The Departed, a movie that tasted stale.

I have no interest in seeing the rest, not even The Queen. Much as I adore Helen, I just don't much care for films about European monarchy.

adam k. said...

There's no way Mirren's winning the FB award. I doubt she'll even be nominated. With this new development of Marie Antoinette taking the best picture FB, I expect to see a slot reserved for Kirsten Dunst.

Along with probably Streep, Dench, Winslet, and Cruz... and/or maybe Annette Bening.

Anonymous said...

"I just don't much care for films about European monarchy."

That's an unusual comment. I still recommend The Queen for other reasons (it's a very astutue political satire/drama in many ways).

Glenn Dunks said...

I still expect to see Mol in Nat's Best Actress lineup. He's been talking about her all year. But, who knows apart from Nat?

I'll be seeing Dreamgirls sometime in the next week. It opens here in two days.

While I agree that all the films that are big in the picture race field (except for Babel) are ones that I like, but whereas this year where there are a bunch where I'll be happy for them if they win, there's none that I will be overjoyed about if they win. All my true favourites are on the sidelines - United 93, Children of Men, Volver...

adam k. said...

I like Babel.