Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Bill Condon
Starring: Jamie Fox, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Danny Glover
(PG-13, 131 min.)
"To dream the impossible dream / To reach the unreachable star!" Joe Darion
It will dazzle you – the sequins swaying on stage, the darker rhythms behind the curtain, and the sheer spectacle that reaches its white-gloved hand to you like a siren beckoning. It is a ride through the turbulent sixties, a breathless trip from giddy innocence and heady ambition to the high price paid for packaged success.
As in Shakespeare, the opening introduces us to most of the significant players, using an economy of detail. The reputation of James “Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy) precedes him, as we are just in time to overhear his backup singers quit over his amorous advances. Bottom feeder Curtis Taylor, Jr. (Jamie Fox) most at home behind the stage, volunteers to find their replacements in time for his late evening performance. He decides upon the Dreamettes, a late arriving trio that wows the audience even though they don’t win the talent contest.
While the shy Deena (Beyonce Knowles), roughly patterned after the Supremes’ Diana Ross, and giggly Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) are ecstatic at his offer, Effie (Jennifer Hudson), their lead, “doesn’t do backup.” But the proposal is really too good to refuse, so it doesn’t really take too much cajoling from fellow crooners and little brother/songwriter C.C. to convince Effie to accept. So there you have it. All the seeds that will flower or grow to things rank and gross in nature exposed early on.
Despite her protests, Effie finds that doing backup is all that is left for her, once the calculating Curtis discovers Deena is more malleable, and a prettier package to sell to crossover/white audiences. Oddly enough, it is the two who refuse to be packaged, Hudson’s Effie, and Murphy’s Early, who steal the show, while Academy award winner Jamie Fox seems somehow flat and tentative, an unscrupulous businessman, an unfeeling cad, but not the kind of flesh and blood villain we’d like to get our teeth into.
This is an age when musicals seldom translate from their comfort zone on Broadway to the big screen, where someone bursting into song in the middle of your everyday comings and goings has come to be at best contrived, at worst almost laughable. One reason Dreamgilrs works is because it is the story of entertainers, with rehearsals and performances the grist of their daily lives. To have them utter their innermost feelings in song seems almost as natural as a mother’s lullaby to comfort her tearful baby.
While I agree with other critics who are not over impressed with the soundtrack, one cannot help but be awed by the visual stagecraft, the grace and energy that overflow. One performance, an over the top number with Deena vamping on stage and a cadre of muscled men strutting their stuff all around her, was supposed to have that slightly sneering attitude we now bestow on disco’s bygone era, but I loved it. I can’t say quite the same about Jennifer Hudson’s showstopper, “And I’m telling you I’m not Going,” belted out with equally high emotion and decibels, but to me, just the thing to send once beau Curtis firmly in the other direction, where he could reassure himself he’d made the right decision to replace Effie on stage and in his bed as well. I’d favor her more subdued “I Am Changing,” or Deena’s equally introspective “Listen,” both with heartfelt lyrics that manage to impress without damaging the eardrums.
Yes, Dreamgirls is a delightful excuse to while away an afternoon or evening, an epic tale of talent clashing with ambition, spontaneity sparring with calculation, but like the crossover group itself, just a little short on soul.
Not only are Effie White’s talent and pipes oversize, but her figure as well. It’s one of the unnamed reasons promoter Curtis Taylor, Jr. replaces her with the svelte beauty Deena Jones as lead singer.
And no, we don’t ever get to see Effie in the full chow down mode, but I suspect she couldn’t resist this soul food staple. Pork Chops. These are smothered in a beefy broth of tender onions.
Effie, forget about the ever vigilant beady-eyed Curtis, and enjoy, Girl.
Smothered Pork Chops
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 can (14.5 oz.) beef broth
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Garlic flavored vegetable cooking spray
- 6 pork chops, 1/2 inch thick
- 2 onions, sliced
Mix cornstarch, broth and pepper until smooth and set aside. Spray a skillet with the garlic cooking spray and heat over medium heat.
Season chops with salt and pepper and cook chops in 2 batches if necessary for 10 minutes or until well browned on each side. Remove chops and set aside. Remove the skillet from the heat and spray again with cooking spray. Add the onion and cook over medium heat just until tender crisp. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to skillet. Cook until boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Return chops to pan, cover and cook over low heat for 10-12 minutes or until the chops are done.
Recipe Source: chefrick.com