23 January 2007

Review: Dreamgirls

I feel I must post this review now, at long last, as I cannot stand one more comment about how the film was unduly and shockingly "snubbed" by the Academy earlier today.

Genre: Musical

Acclaimed director and writer's, Bill Condon's, most recent fare Dreamgirls looked like it had taken his natural talents to an absurdist plastic surgeon - and not just, because the film's glossy sheen reeked of artifice either. A cinematic artist in whose talents I do believe and have believed since his incredible showing Gods and Monsters, Mr. Condon simply did not show well this time around, suspectedly due to his being yolked by the studio or some pushy PR people representing the "talent" (namely the women Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé Knowles). Why is this my suspicion? Let me count the ways.
Primarily, the utterly ridiculous length of time devoted to showcasing the (irritatingly platitudinous) original song by Beyoncé in the film utterly reeked of her own glam-bition and not a decided mistake on Mr. Condon's part. There is no way at all that he would make such an egregious error in judgement that, not only elevated the more supporting role to inappropriate leading-role heights, but also and moreover spun whatever sense of balance the film had had beforehand completely off its axis. I mean, come on: was the whole song really necessary, especially since it was neither a famous original from the Broadway production nor replete of lyrics necessary for the continuation of the story? I smell a pushy diva.
Secondly, I understand that a film about aspiring for fame in the inherently glamorous music industry obviously requires a certain (high) level of glitz and shimmer, but was it really necessary to polish that shine to stridency? The dance remix of the character's, Effie White's, heartfelt song "One Night Only" is tragic enough, without being so overblown in its presentation, that I was reminded of being surrounded by several glaring disco balls, covered in glitter, and blasted with extremely large-candela lighting. Also, who approved the set design in Beyoncé's 'success house,' that it featured huge, wall-size, fashion-esque photographs (that weren't even interesting as photographs - see above) of herself in various attitudes? Yes, I'm aware that by that point in the storyline she's supposed to have become somewhat self-involved and that her husband (blandly played by the ever flat Jamie Foxx) has pumped her up to a ludicrous degree in the public eye; but who convinced everyone that the character is such an exhibitionistic narcissist? Who does that and acts like it's normal? The costumes and make-up were at approximately the correct level of glamour (i. e., high) already; there was absolutely no need to electocute it to a scarringly neon zenith - or should I say nadir? - as was done. Since Mr. Condon has shown at least self-restraint in this area in his previous films, I cannot fathom it to be his fault.
Thirdly, the acting was at some times horrendous and at other times it levelled off to mediocrity. While some of this faltering may be attributed to an inadequacy in Mr. Condon's skill as an 'actor's director,' only so much of it can be explained away by this reasoning. The remaining rest, which I must say based on the efforts he has encouraged from the actors in his previous films is the majority, can only be shortcomings on behalf of the cast. While many people may love - and deservedly so - the very entertaining natures of the stars of this film, their entertainment does not good art make necessarily. While many may feel admiration for Mr. Foxx or may rally behind the efforts of Mr. Murphy, their performances lacked the certain spark or fire, the certain completeness of character, that more thorough actors might have brought into the roles. Mr. Foxx, as aforementioned, was static and unmoving, a veritable cardboard cutout of characterization whose appearances and lines were appropriately metronomically inserted at the correct beats. Mr. Murphy, while far better than Mr. Foxx and perhaps a noteworthy performer for his presence in the beginning of the film, just could not pull off the unholy descent that his character must endure in a believable way. He was too normal, too himself, to make the drugs and the aged scrapings on to fame real, at least for me. Regarding the women: why does Beyoncé think she can act? She cannot. She's an even worse performer, even duller, somehow even more (self-)unaware, than the character she was cast to play is supposed to be. And, for the record, her character's part in the story of Dreamgirls is most definitely not the leading part; the A plotline is about Effie White's struggles, not Deena's smaller domestic issues. The effected flip of their hierarchy in the story could only have been by gross collusion for glam-bition, by Beyoncé (who actually uttered the phrase "I want [an Oscar]" during an MTV interview), by the studio who most probably refused to finance such a big-budget production without an 'all-star cast,' and by Ms. Hudson's agent(s) who knew she would have a better chance at winning awards if her status were officially 'Supporting.' It's not that I think Ms. Hudson is wholly undeserving of the laud she has received - in my opinion, though forced and muddled at points, her performance was the best in the film - but rather that I think she's far less deserving than some other, more capable and better paced, actresses.
All those matters having been considered and editing, screenplay, and cinematography set aside as similarly abysmal, the film did have a few redeeming qualities. The costuming and the making-up were great, fantastically showy but restrained renditions of climbing late-60s-early-70s musical fame. The directing wasn't terrible, with what and whom Mr. Condon had to work being considered ; and the sound I'm sure was dead on. However, these few positive comments are about all that Dreamgirls can elicit from me. I was extremely disappointed. I thought Mr. Condon should have known better, than to have allowed his art and command to be passenger-driven, by people who clearly do not know quality in film.

Grade: C

So, for anyone who didn't quite catch that, Dreamgirls wasn't actually a good film; its not being nominated for Best Picture is not a snub by the Academy but rather a support of the Academy's credibility in its official aim. And, though this opinion may be decried since it is only promulgated widely now, after the fact of nomination, it most definitely nevertheless represents how I've always felt about the film, from the very instant I walked out of the theater. So, come Oscar night, with the exception of maybe sound-mixing I'll be rooting for the other nominees.

Post a Comment