Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dream nightmare

Toward the end of Dreamgirls, Eddie Murphy launches into a truly horrible song and I’m thinking I can’t believe I’ve actually paid good money to hear Eddie Murphy sing. But then in what is arguably the only decent musical moment in the show, Murphy’s character says enough of this shit and launches into some James Brown-style funk. Unfortunately, pretty much the rest of the music in the movie is more of that shit.

Dreamgirls is a musical that portrays the rise of a Supremes-like girl group fronted by American Idol washout Jennifer Hudson and a Motown-like record label run by Jamie Foxx. Eddie Murphy plays a Soul singer on the downward spiral and Beyoncé Knowles and Danny Glover also have bit parts as well.

Had I thought more about it, I would have questioned the idea of paying good money to see Eddie Murphy act, but he was actually pretty good as James “Thunder” Early, an R&B legend who was unable to de-saturate himself enough to make it in the white world. Or maybe his acting just looked good by comparison. Jamie Foxx was a total stiff, Danny Glover didn’t have a lot to do and Beyoncé had a small part and one big song at the end.

Jennifer Hudson, the former American Idol wannabe, is the main character. She is the leader of the girl group and far and away the best singer. But in order to make it on television, the talented but overweight Hudson is forced to sing backup to the beautiful but bland Knowles. The movie is best when Hudson is on the screen. I’ll leave it to more insightful critics to judge her acting skills, but her character’s story line, attitude and vocal skills easily dominate this lame-assed movie.

Ultimately, a musical cannot be that much better than its music and the music in Dreamgirls is mostly American Idol-style power ballads and screaming, with some Broadway show tunes and a little bit of R&B. It would have been much, much better if they could have used the actual songs of The Supremes.

The subplot outside the movie, however, is interesting in a nightmarish way. The movie’s central theme, that beauty and blandness triumphs over talent, played out in real life as well. Although Jennifer Hudson was the main character and Beyoncé Knowles played what was essentially a bit part, when it came to awards, the studio pushed Knowles for Best Actress and Hudson for Best Supporting Actress. There is no way in hell that anyone could watch that movie and think that Knowles was the lead and Hudson the supporting actress. That would be like nominating Olivia deHavilland as Best Supporting Actress in Gone with the Wind rather than Vivien Leigh. It was truly a very sad case of life imitating popular entertainment.

And unfortunately, that’s also an example of popular entertainment imitating corporate and political life. George W. Bush is by far the most obvious example of one who has done nothing to deserve a lead role, yet gets it through connections. As we know all too well, the less talented have been promoted over the more talented throughout Bush’s government. And if anecdotal evidence proves accurate, the corporate culture is at least as bad. And media? The hair is so much more important than what, if anything, is underneath it.

Still I can’t think of another situation so rife with hypocrisy. To have a film about producers screwing over Jennifer Hudson’s character because of her looks and then screwing her over for her looks in real life is just sick. The movie? Well, it sucked in the way that big Hollywood happy ending movies always suck. As far as killing time with a date before late night dinner, drinks, and the fun stuff, it had it’s moments and you could certainly do a lot worse.