By: Erik Swift
Guys, did you have to see “Dreamgirls” when it hit theaters with a date that loves Broadway musicals and knows every word to all of them? Me too. OK, so it wasn’t “Grindhouse,” but admit it – Eddie Murphy justified walking in. His portrayal of James “Thunder” Early is the best acting he’s ever done. Period. He struts, twirls, twists and swaggers, stuffing years of his childhood James Brown imitations into Early that earned him a well-deserved Oscar nomination. The ace casting of “Dreamgirls” makes the film as catchy as the score – Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Danny Glover and especially the knockout Jennifer Hudson slam-dunk roles they were born to play.
Its two-disc Showstopper Edition DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment overflows with behind-the scenes footage from a film that follows three singers climbing the rungs of success in early 1960s Detroit. Its significant debt to Motown and The Supremes’ history is obvious, but “Dreamgirls” moves with lightning speed through the saga of The Dreams, led by Deena Jones (Knowles), Effie White (Hudson) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose). Fighting their way out of the talented Detroit scene with the assistance of mogul-in-the-making Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Foxx) and the songs of Effie’s brother C.C. (Keith Robinson), The Dreams hit the big time after leaving their backup gig for Early. They rack up hit after hit until inner tension eventually splinters the group.
Period pieces are a lot of fun when Bill Condon handles them. The best moments of 1998’s “Gods And Monsters” flaunted the director’s talents in his glorious recreation of the 1935 movie set of James Whales’ “Bride Of Frankenstein.” Condon’s work on “Dreamgirls” is magnificent (particularly The Dreams’ television performances), but its 131 minutes border on overkill, and its deleted and extended scenes were trimmed for good reason. Creating a film from such a beloved and familiar musical has its own set of challenges, which the director easily runs down early in “Making The Dream,” a documentary nearly two hours in length that should only be viewed by the most ardent of obsessive fans. Aside from Murphy noting his awful albums from the 1980s about halfway through, there isn’t much on the bonus disc that hasn’t been seen before. The requisite gushing divas and back-patting actors get old quickly, but skip to the art department extras for an eye-opening look at what went into this film (the album covers are best). Toss in a volume of storyboards and Knowles’ killer audition and the Showstopper Edition improves. Additional nuggets on the first disc include complete performances from the other fictional bands from the talent show that opens the film, plus a Jackson 5-soundalike so good one almost feels bad for Michael.
Many felt “Dreamgirls” was snubbed at this year’s Oscars despite Hudson’s deserving Best Supporting Actress win. Maybe it was three of its eight nods crowding the Best Original Song category, or perhaps after the recent successes of “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago” that a Best Picture nomination wasn’t in the cards. Regardless, this rags-to-riches saga was a jewel of 2006 that, like its subject matter, will surely top the charts again.