ONCE UPON A DREAM
by Harvey Perr
now playing in select cities
opens nationwide December 25
“Dreamgirls” has come hurtling towards us with the velocity of a cannonball, thanks to a very expensive publicity machine, and because Oprah Winfrey embraced and endorsed it with what can only be called sweet rapture. And it happened far enough in advance to create even more excitement about the unseen film. Then the Oscar “buzz” began, and all that talk about Eddie Murphy making a comeback and even more talk about Jennifer Hudson, who was said to have done for “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” on the screen what Jennifer Holliday had done for it on the stage. And then that story about Ms. Hudson – losing on “American Idol” only to be resurrected in her film debut in the most smashing manner – was bound to build up our sympathies towards her. It announced exclusive weekly engagements at higher prices for audiences that clearly had bought all the hype that preceded the event. How can anyone face a challenge – I mean, a film – like that unarmed?
Is what we’re seeing what we’ve heard about? Are we really seeing it? Is that the dazzle we’ve been promised? Is it just razzle-dazzle? How can we not love you? And how can we keep ourselves from not running away from you?
Yes, Jennifer Hudson is as good as they say (and better) and you will not forget the way she takes that song at full throttle, wrings the mother dry, and blows it clear out of the proverbial ball park. The song has been sung! Dare I suggest, under the circumstances, that there is not much to “Dreamgirls” except that song? And, yes, it is wonderful to see Eddie Murphy being wonderful. And, even more interestingly, he lets us take a look at the skeleton head hiding behind the mask, and it is a devastating glimpse into the man.
But what else is there to talk about? Where is the rest of it?
The writer/director Bill Condon wrote the screenplay of “Chicago,” so he clearly knows something about musicals; and he directed, “Gods and Monsters” and “Kinsey,” for heaven’s sake, two films which provide him with all the credentials he needs to be seen as a serious film maker. And yet it’s hard to see what he has put on the screen that is anywhere near interesting enough to warrant any true reaction from us. The credentials may be right, but the execution is indifferent.
The problem, of course, may be with me. On the other hand, the problem may be with “Dreamgirls” itself. It may be that I just don’t like the idea of seeing trash transformed into art. I don’t think that that is really possible. Now, that big, bad publicity machine may tell you that “Dreamgirls” proves that it is possible. Believe them if you must.