What, do you really think Ebert and Roeper watch all the dreck they give thumbs up? Bah.
But if I'd been called upon to review Dreamgirls, I would've jumped at the chance to watch it. And now that I have, I can say I would've been glad that I did, versus wishing I could've saved two precious hours of my life by making shit up.
All kinds of meaningful (says me) commentary and penetrating (also says me) observations about race, colorism, class, gender, and culture run through my mind when I think about the film. Foremost, I realize that the portrayal of Black folks in American cinema has come a long way. It's terrifically consequential to have popcorn fare like Dreamgirls and a weightier existential concern like The Pursuit of Happyness playing at the same time. But, it's still easy to fit the characters in Dreamgirls into the stereotypes film historian Donald Bogle proffers in his book Toms, Coons, Mammies, Mulattoes, and Bucks. In fact, let's take a look at the main characters: Jimmy Early (Eddie Murphy), coon; Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx), buck; Deena Jones (Beyonce), mulatto; Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), mammy. Well, there we have it. If anyone disagrees, read Bogle and get back to me.
I find it best not to get lathered up over these things. Dreamgirls is, above all things, a high-hatted musical in the grand tradition. If it were a dog, it would be a big, slobbering St. Bernard, jumping on you and knocking you down, getting all in your face to get you to show emotion. It's that emphatic. And, take my word, it will get some feeling out of you. But it's neither the triumph nor the tromping of the dream girls themselves that will make you cry, it's the way they sing about it all in the film's two big musical numbers.
If we wanted to dabble in real life here, we'd take a closer look at what happened to the people these characters are based on. Diana Ross/Deena Jones ricocheted straight to the top, knobby knees and all, while Florence Ballard/Effie White sank to welfare and a gravelly grave at age 32. But we don't want to see that in a movie. We got our own troubles.
So let's talk about what we do want to see, and how Dreamgirls delivers the object of our desire with the force of 10,000 dancing Rockettes.
The wigs, they rule.
Of course this isn't even a sixteenth of the tricked-out wigness featured, and not even the best. There are wigs in Dreamgirls that make the mouth water, the jaw drop. Real hair that naturally grows from scalps is so over. None of it is good enough, and I don't care if you're freakin' Cher, circa 1972. This movie hips you to the fact: you need to get yourself a wig. You only have to wear it during moments of high drama, if that makes you more comfortable, but you simply must have at least one, and that's that. How else are you going to fake your way to the top?
In his New York Times review of Dreamgirls, A. O. Scott laments that "The decades are marked by the progression of hairstyles, lapels, jewelry and dresses...." To which I say, You damn right!
I've listened to the 20th Anniversary benefit concert on CD, and didn't go to the movie expecting anything provocative or lasting. (Or even an engaging musical journey. With the exception of the anthem "And I Am Telling You," the rest of it remains stage music, inextricably weighted by the story it has to help tell.) For me it was all about aesthetics, and Dreamgirls drips with aesthetics.
Schmin, my movie buddy, hadn't thought about much of this beforehand, but agreed that the wigs were badass. He was also impressed with the acting, and with Anika Noni Rose, his official nomination in the sexy category.
Here we are on Christmas day. In anticipation of the happening head coverage to come, I'd brought a little drama of my own.
Here's a link to the LA times article on Jennifer Holliday's reaction to the film. I know the filmmakers weren't obligated to her, but still.