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Hard to believe there's no thread about this yet, as it's being heralded as a virtual lock for the 2007 Best Picture winner. Here's a report from the first-ever screening of the film, where it drew enthusiastic reactions from the audience and has critics tripping over themselves to emphasize how sure the film, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson are to receive Oscar nods.

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When was the last time Eddie Murphy was in something worth watching at all, let alone Oscar-worthy? I always enjoyed his 80s action-comedies, sometimes as guilty pleasures, but anything he's done in the last 10-15 years has been completely unpalatable, in my opinion. So yeah, I'm actually excited to see him in this. My expectations for the film aren't really that high, this isn't the type of movie that immediately appeals to me, but I'll definitely give it a shot.

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Alas, for the next 32 days or so, I must respect a gag order (or whatever the term is for the silence imposed by studios on critics whose names are not Poland or Wells) and refrain from giving any personal opinions of the film.

But I think I can report, as an objective observer, on the audience reaction tonight. And suffice to say that, as one colleague of mine put it, one third of the audience burst into laughter-and-not-the-good-kind-of-laughter on a few occasions, another third broke into applause-and-yes-the-good-kind-of-applause on a few occasions, and the remaining third probably didn't know what to make of the film.

For now, like I say, I shall refrain from saying publicly which of these thirds I belong to, if any.

I mention this here simply to say that the discussion around this film could be rather interesting, come Oscar season. Especially if the film is recognized by Oscar the way some people think it will be. I am curious to see which members of this board will join the glee club and which will join the naysayers, and why.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Rod Dreher asks if Oscar-buzz magnet Jennifer Hudson just lost her award.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The movie's out now (albeit, in 3 theatres in the entire USA!) so it's probably safe to lift your gag order.

I saw it on Saturday night. It was one of the most soulful experiences I've ever had in a movie theatre. This ranks right up there with my Do The Right Thing experience - minus all the angry stuff.

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utzworld wrote:

: The movie's out now (albeit, in 3 theatres in the entire USA!) so it's probably safe to lift your gag order.

I dunno, this particular studio might insist on me adhering to the Vancouver release date, which won't be for at least another week. As it is, I'm seeing it again tomorrow anyway. (And I am very curious to see if the audience has the same mix of reactions that it had a month ago.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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So there was no one tittering in disbelief? Interesting.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Almost everyone in the theatre had a certain measure of "baggage" they brought with them - either cultural (Black), historical (folks who know the story of Diana Ross & The Supremes), or emotional (the die-hard fans of the original Broadway musical). Mine was cultural as Motown is the soundtrack of the lives of me and my cultural kinsmen. But we all believed.

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Actually, utzworld, I think the movie RELIES on people bringing "baggage" to the theatre in order to fill the gaps and give the movie more meaning than it might actually have.

The characters are drawn very sketchily, and the songs pretty much do the acting for the actors -- except the songs typically express themes that could be applied to ANY situation ("I'm going to find my own voice," etc.), or when they DO get specific, the lyrics tend to be incredibly banal; in fact, I hesitate to use the word "lyrics" for those bits, because it's as though they had just taken straightforward dialogue and put it to music.

It also doesn't help that the first time a character breaks into song IN THE MIDDLE OF A DRAMATIC SCENE is almost half-way into the movie -- and yes, I checked my watch tonight. Until that point, Every Single Song is performed on a stage or in rehearsal, with just one extremely-easy-to-overlook exception (i.e. Jamie Foxx sings one or two lines from 'Steppin' to the Bad Side' in a non-musical setting, roughly half an hour into the film, but this is quickly forgotten when the montage continues with an extensive choreography sequence followed by Eddie Murphy's concert performance of that same song).

Because the movie allows you to think that the songs are all part of the dramatic action, that first appearance of singing that is explicitly NOT part of the dramatic action -- that first appearance of expressionistic, rather than naturalistic, singing, if I can use those terms -- is pretty jarring, and at both screenings, I have heard people start laughing at that point (and at the three or four later points where characters break into song in the middle of a non-concert, non-rehearsal scene).

More later. Gotta write my review of this one now.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Wow, look at Armond White go!

"And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" -- realistically understood as "The Stalker's Anthem" -- is the show-stopping number from Dreamgirls in which a woman begs and threatens a man to love her. Despite its ostentatious build-up, "And I Am Telling You" has not entered the Broadway canon: It's a number white actresses don't/won't attempt because it's culturally stigmatized. The song is so wildly humiliating that it can only be rationalized as a cartoonish black stereotype -- the anguish of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin thoughtlessly jumbled and coarsened into a hebephrenic climax.

All this is worth pointing out in order to understand that the hype surrounding the gaudy movie version of Dreamgirls is unacceptable. The film's makers mindlessly reproduce the stage show's inauthenticity. The media have conceded to this nonsense, as if it were all in good fun. But this "fun" is dubious, typecasting black American behavior and culture into shrillness and frivolity. The essential silliness of Dreamgirls was brilliantly captured in the little-seen indie Camp when a white teenage girl sang the showstopper to a pipsqueak black boy. It flipped the show's own stereotypes and exposed the song's inane sentimentality while demonstrating that it only functions as a theatrical device: Aunt Jemima Ex Machina. . . .

And on and on it goes. Reviews like this make me wonder why I even bother.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Meh.

File him in the camp of "Bourgeois Black Folk" - the same folk who compare Tyler Perry's plays & movies to minstrel shows, blame rap music & hip-hop culture for the decline of Western Civilization, has plastic slip covers on their living room furniture, defended Michael Richards when he used the N word, etc.

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File him in the camp of "Bourgeois Black Folk"
There's a camp?

Who's filing people there? Is it voluntary or involuntary?

Is there a different camp for bourgeois white folk?

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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utzworld wrote:

: Peter, have you ever seen a version of the original stage production? Just wondering.

Nope; to be honest, I wasn't even aware that there WAS one until the publicity for this film got into gear.

: Listening to the soundtrack as we speak...makes me want to drive 40 miles to Hollywood to see the movie again!

I just wrote a middling-at-best review of the film last night, but I did mention in there that some (not all, but some) of the songs are kind of catchy. I was actually humming 'Steppin' to the Bad Side' while bouncing my baby girl on my knee about half an hour ago, and it made her smile. She likes rhythm.

And I might as well say in advance that my review was commissioned at the last minute, as a pinch-hitting replacement for another writer who couldn't attend the one remaining preview before the film came out. This film clearly has a fan base, but I just ain't in it, so writing the review was kind of weird, because this was very much a movie FOR the fans ... y'know, I got flashbacks to remarks that certain non-Christians made about The Nativity Story, or to Barbara Nicolosi's ignorant put-down of Casino Royale because it contained story elements that are actually in Ian Fleming's books (imagine that!), and so on ... so I can guess how my review will look to some people.

But then, why shouldn't people write reviews for non-fans like me, too, right?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I enjoyed the movie on one level. Certainly I thought Jennifer Hudson's and Eddie Murphy's performances were remarkable. And, as musicals go, this one was far better than most, and some of these songs could have legitimately stood on their own as great soul tracks from Motown or Stax.

But I guess I'm just not a musicals kind of guy. I admit that I'm not consistent about this. I'm just going by my gut reaction, and there's no logic to it. For some reason, I can watch rock 'n roll bands with painted faces, shooting fire out of their mouths or spitting blood, and just shrug it off and think, "Yep, just another normal day in Heavy Metal Hell." But when somebody switches from dialog to song in a play or movie, my mind can't make the transition. It was actually more difficult for me with Dreamgirls because many of the song lyrics were so pedestrian, and actually sounded like normal speech. The effect was something like this to my ears:

Diva (pleadingly): "Honey, would you pick up a pound of pastrami on your way home from work tonight?"

Boffo Tenor (with bravado): "Sure, right after I drop off the dry cleaning."

I just never want to sing about these things, and I'm always amazed when people do. I have similar problems with opera, although at least people are singing the whole way through, albeit in those sometimes boring recitatives that string the story along between the arias.

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: Certainly I thought Jennifer Hudson's and Eddie Murphy's performances were remarkable.

As singers, or as actors? That's the big question. As I say in my review (which I admit may be a little too conscious of the awards season), "Should someone win a best actor or best actress award for singing? That, more or less, is the question that we will all be dealing with for the next two months, as Dreamgirls coasts into theaters on a wave of Oscar hype that likely won't end until the last golden statuette is handed out at the end of February."

: But when somebody switches from dialog to song in a play or movie, my mind can't make

: the transition. It was actually more difficult for me with Dreamgirls because many of the

: song lyrics were so pedestrian, and actually sounded like normal speech.

Bingo. I mean, I actually LIKE musicals myself, but the absolute lack of artistry in the off-stage songs is a big problem in Dreamgirls (and I think I read somewhere that some of the non-sung dialogue used to be sung in the Broadway version? the mind boggles).

Another problem, of course, is that the first clearly off-stage song (by which I mean the first truly "musical" song, i.e. a song that is not just a generic pop song sung by the characters in front of an audience or backstage in rehearsal as part of the drama) comes almost HALF-WAY into the movie. Both times I have seen this film, there have been significant sections of the audience that were caught off-guard by this, and laughed. And it wasn't the "good" kind of laughter, because we are SUPPOSED to be feeling a character's pain, then.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I put a review on my HJ blog (which hasn't been stolen from me yet!) and sent an edited, non-Christian-ese version to The Chicks. Let me warn yall now - it's full blown "masturbatory" (a word I learned at AICN).

BTW...saw it again last night with a predominantly White audience. No one was caught off guard or broke into laughter during the off-stage musical numbers.

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utzworld wrote:

: BTW...saw it again last night with a predominantly White audience. No one was caught

: off guard or broke into laughter during the off-stage musical numbers.

Maybe it was a predominantly Gay audience. ;)

FWIW, Dreamgirls was #1 on Monday (its first day in "wide" release), #3 on Tuesday, #4 on Wednesday and Thursday, and #3 again on Friday -- but it's playing on only 852 theatres, so it easily has the best per-screen averages of any film in the top ten. See David Poland for more, especially re: Monday's numbers.

And now for the review by my favorite local movie critic, who also happens to be an occasional music critic:

The first third of

Dreamgirls

is quite absorbing, both as an ersatz pop-culture artifact and as a vehicle for newcomer Jennifer Hudson. By the time the deep-voiced singer belts her way through the showstopping "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going", however, I began to wish I had sung that particular number at assignment time.

Hudson, a finalist famously rejected on American Idol, is a genuine discovery. The movie depends on the gravity of her voice and her physical presence to sell some pretty thin stuff -- something that works well until the fraudulent nature of the story makes the 130-minute film drag by ever more slowly.

It

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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How old was the crowd, on average? If there were a lot of over-40 folks, chances are they were/are Supremes (et. al.) fans...

There were quite a few over-40's. Not too many teens. A bunch of folks my age, too.

The thing about Berry Gordy's crossover effort re. Diana Ross is that it succeeded. (At the expense of several far more talented women singers on Motown's roster, at that.)

But then, Aretha became famous everywhere, with everyone, and she didn't try to cross over. So there you go.

The film does explain the whole "crossover" thing - particularly with the

"Cadillac Car" and "Steppin To The Bad Side" sequences.

As I'm sure you know, Ellen, it was initially a plan to protect the music from being ripped off by White-owned companies and their artists. But then the $$$ started rollin in and you know the rest.

Pete/others, did you know any of this?

BTW, The Chicks have posted my review.

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Well, yeah (Pat Boone covers, etc.!) but still... Martha and the Vandellas get my vote for best Motown girl group, no contest. I wonder what would have happened if Berry Gordy had done certain things differently...

Martha and the girls were too "Effie-esque" for the national stage. There's a scene in "Dreamgirls" in which

Curtis tells Deena that he picked her for lead of The Dreams because her voice had no depth

. The second time I saw it, Diva La Ross was the first person to pop in my mind - and her voice in my eardrums - during that scene.

As far as girl groups go, I'm a Marvelettes man myself! I go into a frenzy everytime I hear "Hunter Gets Captured By The Game" and "My Baby Must Be A Magician"! ::flip_anim::

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