Dreamgirls (Bill Condon, 2006)
After more than two decades in development hell the Broadway musical "Dreamgirls" has finally come to the big screen, and while it's not a great musical or even the best recent one (I'd say that would be the "Once More, With Feeling" episode of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer"), it's better by far than anything we've seen in years ("Evita," "Chicago," "Moulin Rouge," anyone?). It's a melodrama with musical numbers; a soapy retelling of a famous singing group's dirtiest laundry (The Supremes, and its breakout star Diana Ross); a modest, fairly crafted revival of a moribund genre, all rolled up in one unashamedly glitzy package. It's the story of an ugly duckling--Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) a wannabe pop diva with a weight problem who, instead of becoming a swan by story's end is instead surpassed by Deena Jones (Beyonce), a real (or at least more conventional) beauty, the classic morality tale of surface winning out over substance, which had illusions of matters being otherwise.
Maybe the biggest problem the show has is that it's essentially a retelling; the songs are pastiches (that at times approach parody) of the Motown songs they're supposed to emulate. Actually, they're less than parodies--a parody would at least try and sound like the source material it's making fun of; these are overblown, Hollywood motion-picture soundtrack notions of what Motown's supposed to sound like. Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen can try hard as they can (and they try very hard), but the works of geniuses like Marvin Gaye are sui generis, and therefore inimitable. The film very rarely comes to life in its musical numbers; maybe only twice, and mostly thanks to the actors--"What About Me?" comes to mind, and of course, the showstopping "And I'm Telling You." Most of the time director Bill Condon is content to cut away and go into a montage sequence that furthers the story, instead of wasting time on the number--and for once I'm not complaining.