Movie lovers are in for a treat when they settle in to watch "Dreamgirls." Adapted from a 1981 Broadway musical, the film features a star-powered cast — including Beyoncé Knowles, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy — but the real star is ex-American Idol singer Jennifer Hudson.
Rightly praised for her vocal chops by critics across the country, Hudson is simply one of the most astonishing screen presences to hit cinemas in years. Above and beyond her impressive set of pipes, she really can act — holding her own with screen titans Foxx, Murphy and Danny Glover. Beyoncé — she can belt out a pop song — but she's got only one gear in the acting department — and you realize after hearing Hudson blast out those soul melodies that Hudson is really the one with the voice.
The plot isn't heavy and was meant for the stage. Girl group hits it big, splits up and then makes up. There's plenty of drama along the way, but music is what truly powers the show, whether it be the sounds of the '60s, the '70s or the first tentative swings into disco. Hearing Jennifer Hudson put heart and soul into showstopper "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going" is a transcendent experience that was surely even more powerful on stage but still works for the screen.
Aside from Beyoncé, who, let's admit it, is really batting way out of her league, the cast is uniformly fantastic. Murphy is garnering loads of Oscar buzz for his turn as singer James "Thunder" Early; Hudson is seen by many critics as a lock for the Best Supporting Actress trophy unless her momentum peaks too soon. Jamie Foxx plays the sleazy manager Curtis Taylor, Jr. to perfection, although he may be overlooked come award time because he already has an Oscar for "Ray."
Two performances that rarely draw notice and nevertheless deserve praise are Anika Noni Rose and Keith Robinson. Broadway actress Rose, who won a Tony for "Caroline or Change," takes the role of the third Dreamgirl Lorell and turns in a nuanced, layered performance in what many would have considered a minor role. And she can sing! Robinson, whose background includes work as the Green Power Ranger, brings hope and ultimately redemption to the conflicted role of Effie's brother C.C., whose only goal was to hear his songs on the radio. And don't miss the cameo by John Krasinski from "The Office."
What doesn't work? The movie is too long and yet somehow manages to cut things short. The last act is absolutely packed to the gills with action, exposition and fights, feuds and making up. And some of the best musical numbers (we never get anything close to a full version of "One Night Only") are cut short. Surely some of the longer scenes and musical numbers from the front of the film could have been cut to provide a bit of balance to the conclusion.
Still, "Dreamgirls" is a grandly entertaining film packed with great performances and some beautiful music.