STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now let's review a movie about women chasing another kind of dream. “Dreamgirls” opens today in Los Angeles and nationwide later in the month. It is already the talk of Hollywood and on the top of everybody's list of likely candidates for the Oscar.

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says it's worth the hype.

KENNETH TURAN: “Dreamgirls” is alive with the sound of music. It's a love song two times over, a tribute to both a vibrant period of American popular music and the big-budget Hollywood musical.

“Dreamgirls” is based loosely on the career of Diana Ross and the Supremes. It's a classic backstage tale, a look at the news behind the news of how a humble girl group called the Dreamettes made its way to the pinnacle of musical success and - get out those handkerchiefs - of the emotional price that had to be paid along the way.

This kind of storyline has never been profound, but writer-director Bill Condon understands the emotional and technical demands of musicals, and he makes “Dreamgirls” feel fresh and alive. Aside from stars Beyonce Knowles and Jaime Foxx, he's gotten help from two unlikely co-stars: Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson.

Murphy gives the most fully rounded performance of his career as James Thunder Early, a soul singer of the James Brown variety who gives the Dreamettes their first big break. Murphy eats this part alive, making more than anyone else could of this creature of complete self-confidence and seduction.

(Soundbite of movie, “Dreamgirls”)

Mr. EDDIE MURPHY (Actor): (as James Thunder Early) Ladies, thank you so much. You're saving Jimmy's life. Thank you so much, ladies. I'm at your feet. You see that? I'm at your feet, baby. Thank you so much. And I'd do anything for y'all. Anything. You hear what I'm saying?

TURAN: Hudson, a runner-up on “American Idol,” makes her film debut here. You'd never know that though, because under Condon's direction she gives a fearless performance as the Dreamette who pays a price for having a mind of her own. And when she rips into the musical's signature song, “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going,” her singing tears the screen apart.

(Soundbite of movie, “Dreamgirls”)

Ms. JENNIFER HUDSON (Actress): (as Effie Melody White) (Singing) And I am telling you I'm not going, you're the best man I've ever known, there's no way I can ever go, no, no, no way…

TURAN: “Dreamgirls” is unapologetic about putting the music in the spotlight. Because it is a story about singers who have to rehearse, perform and record, it doesn't miss a chance to showcase the kind of syncopated soul music and showmanship that characterized the Motown sound. “Dreamgirls” is the entire musical package: a triumph of old school on-screen glamour, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

INSKEEP: Ken Turan is film critic for MORNING EDITION and the L.A. Times.

(Soundbite of movie, “Dreamgirls”)

Ms. BEYONCE KNOWLES (Singer, Actress): (as Deena Jones) (Singing) We are Dreamgirls, we know we'll never leave you, no, no. And all your (unintelligible) dreams, baby, we'll be there…

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