Arts & Life


The new movie "Dreamgirls," based on the 1981 Broadway musical got five Golden Globe nominations yesterday. In most of the country, it opens Christmas day. But to burnish the film's luster for awards season, it opens in exclusive road- show engagements today in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Road-show means reserved seating and souvenir programs, just like live theater, also, a higher ticket price.

Bob Mondello says the hype is a bit much but the movie is a crowd pleaser.

BOB MONDELLO: The one thing that everyone said about "Dreamgirls" on stage was that it felt cinematic. So here it is in the cinema, and you know what, it's pretty cinematic.


MONDELLO: The danger, of course, was that it's a backstage story about The Dreams, a '60s girl group, a lot like Diana Ross and the Supremes. What had been cinematic on stage would turn stagy on screen. The Broadway version used whirling turntables and curtains-going-every-which-way to give you the feel of swooping cameras.

In the movie, director Bill Condon uses curtains and turntables too but he actually has swooping cameras. So when, for instance, pretty Deena, silly Lorrell and full-figured Effie get hired to sing backup for a James-Brown style rhythm-and-blues singer, Eddie Murphy, who plays the singer, can sit down at a piano backstage, full of charm.


EDDIE MURPHY: (As James 'Thunder' Early) (Singing) The game of hits goes around and around. But you can...

MONDELLO: And when the tempo picks up, the camera can start moving.

MURPHY: (As James 'Thunder' Early) (Singing) Cut that part right there baby.

BEYONCE KNOWLES: (As Deena Jones) (Singing) Running around -

MURPHY: (As James 'Thunder' Early) (Singing) Let's go way to the top

JENNIFER HUDSON: (As Effie Melody White) (Singing) Running around.

MONDELLO: And, some curtains fly sideways, and the camera swivels hard, and they're all in costume before a cheering crowd.


MONDELLO: The energy is so high in sequences like this - and there are lots of them - that it almost doesn't matter that we've seen this story before, in "Ray" and other film biographies about the heartbreak of musical stardom. Of course, biographies are tied to real people and specific heartbreak, whereas "Dreamgirls" is free to invent things. And what it's invented - besides a Motown milieu just far enough removed from reality to avoid lawsuits - is a showbiz icon, the talent that gets stepped on, on everyone else's way to the top.

Jennifer Hudson plays Effie, a big-boned, enormous-voiced Dreamgirl who gets replaced both onstage and in the bed of her lover, by prettier, slimmer, Deena, played by Beyonce Knowles. Deena is graceful, and can sing, but she and everyone else are blown off the screen when Effie cuts loose in the anthem that has always been this show's highlight.


HUDSON: (As Effie Melody White) (Singing) I'm not gonna leave you. There's no way, I swear. And I am telling you I'm not going. You're the -

MONDELLO: Now, lyrics not withstanding, Effie is going. In the second half, she becomes secondary for long enough that you have time to realize how conventional the "Dreamgirls" story is. The director's transitions and swooping camera work are still amazing, as are the hairdos, fashion and decor. And if the music isn't quite '60s Motown, it certainly pumps up energy levels.

But Jennifer Hudson is why you're there, and at the preview I attended, when she said she wasn't going, a movie audience that had watched her get booted from "American Idol" in real life and now from a fake singing group, started cheering as if she were right there in the theater to hear them. This Dreamgirl, it seems clear, is going to go wherever and whenever she wants.

I'm Bob Mondello.


SIEGEL: And Bob Mondello reviews more new movies as part of the feature, Five for Friday at our Web site,


SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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