On the surface, DREAMGIRLS should’ve been a slam dunk. Condon’s direction and production values are fantastic. You can tell the man gets the energy of the music and it shows in the staging of each song. The music itself is good overall, although I wish they had used more authentic Motown and R&B as opposed to generic Broadway show tunes. And the performances were also solid from both an acting and singing perspective. Jamie Foxx and Beyonce get top billing, but it’s really Jennifer Hudson who gets the “star” role. If she had only been in the movie for the three minutes of her song “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” she’d still deserve her Oscar. Then of course there’s Eddie Murphy, whose role was a lot smaller than I expected. He’s good as aging soul singer James Thunder Early, but only truly shines in a couple scenes. A welcome change of pace? Yes. Oscar-worthy acting? Probably not.
While it’s a well-made movie, the main drawback to DREAMGIRLS is that it doesn’t offer anything new. The song-and-dance routines are fine, but nothing you haven’t seen before. The story is the same as every “fame tears friends apart” plot and while it flirts with some racial and political issues, it abandons them in the second half. And this may be a weird complaint, but I thought there was too much music in this musical. Most of the songs come from characters performing onstage or in the recording studio, with only a few spots where people actually sing dialogue. That’s a fine stylistic choice, but it makes for a lot of narrative lulls where characters stop and sing for three minutes without pushing the story along. Granted, some of the songs reflect themes within the movie, but as a cohesive film it makes things feel a little disjointed. And given DREAMGIRLS epic scope, this manages to make the movie both fast paced and a little boring.
And can we get a musical in a different (non-Broadway) genre? Am I the only one who misses movies like BLUES BROTHERS or PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE?
Extended and Alternate Scenes (36:09): Full, uncut versions of 12 musical numbers, including a couple entirely new songs. Seeing these helps you appreciate the choreography a lot more than in the actual movie.
Beyonce’s “Listen” Music Video (3:49): The girl can sing, no doubt, but I’m still not sold on her acting. I think she’s supposed to be crying in this video but it just looks like she has a bad case of pink eye.
Assorted Previews, including one for NORBIT (in case you were starting to be impressed by Eddie Murphy again).
Building The Dream (1:54:33): A nine part documentary focusing on the long road in making this movie, from the original Broadway show through the final film’s release. It goes in to pretty much every aspect of the process—dance choreography, soundtrack recording, production design, and even a day-by-day report from the set.
Dream Logic: Film Editing (4:08): Want to know how you edit five hours of raw footage in to a two minute dance sequence? The answer lies within.
Designing the Dreams: Costume Design (8:20): The costumes are great, but I want to know who gave Eddie Murphy that hair. That ‘do is impressive.
Center Stage: Theatrical Lighting (8:35): Gaffers don’t get much love, but this featurette shows how important their role was in giving this theatrical production a cinematic feel.
Auditions and Screen Tests (10:54): Early footage of Beyonce and Anika Noni Rose, as well as some practice choreography in the dance studio.
Previsualization Sequences: Early versions of seven songs, a mix of storyboards and test footage.
Image Galleries: Four of them.
Extra Tidbit: Steve Urkel is in this movie, I kid you not.