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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  Movie Reviews

 
DREAMGIRLS (THE MOVIE)
at Screens across the country

UP FROM THE HOOD
By Mark Blankenship

  Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, and Jennifer Hudson

When downtrodden soul singer Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) stands before a wall of mirrors, defiantly singing the line "You're gonna love me," the film adaptation of Dreamgirls defines itself as entertainment that can pierce with its insight.

That particular moment crackles because it is so fully theatrical. Though screenwriter-director Bill Condon has certainly made a film out of Michael Bennett's 1981 musical-which charts the fate of a Supremes-style girl group that dumps its most talented member in favor of a blander, more white-friendly sound-he never forces cinematic-style realism on the show. Instead, Condon lets certain scenes explode into symbols, upending "reality" just long enough to reveal how the material is defined by archetypes and metaphors.

That's in keeping with Bennett, whose accounts of live performers often transform into analyses of performance itself. (Think of the headshot parade in A Chorus Line.)

As he nods to his predecessor, Condon's approach allows the film to pair its character-driven, emotional moments with intellectual flourishes that are equally exciting. In a single sequence, we can consider the people on screen as both empathetic humans and representations of larger ideas.

Consider the moment with Effie. When she starts singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," the show's centerpiece ballad, she's addressing her manager-lover. Thanks to Hudson's exquisite performance, we see a woman who is heartbroken by betrayal.

Then Effie's audience disappears. Hudson sings with the same intensity, but she's belting to an empty room. When she wails the closing phase "you're gonna love me," she could be challenging her lover, the fans who will never hear her music, or the industry that makes no room for an artist as individual as herself.

But the mirrored wall reflecting Effie makes the silent, final point. Her feelings are strong, but they're useless. She's the only one who hears them. Impotent and alone, she becomes everything that gets mercilessly discarded as other people chase success.

Various clues- from the lighting to the way the camera moves- suggest the end of this song isn't meant to be literal. It's a foray into metaphor that informs everything else in the film. Eventually, all the characters are faced with a similar moment of isolation as the world of professional music rejects them in favor of something newer, younger, or more marketable. They're all left to wail at injustice they cannot correct, and we're invited to imagine how Effie's howls for all of them.

 


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