Week Six - 102 Days to Go
Overture, curtain, lights
This is it, the night o' nights
No more rehearsing and nursing our parts
We know every part by heart
Overture, curtain, lights
This is it, to hit the heights
And, oh what heights we'll hit
On with the show, this is it
Dreamgirls landed in Beverly Hills (and across the country) last night and left a giant crater in the Oscar season.
The film was everything promised and more.
More than a traditional musical, as there are only three or four numbers that really feel like traditional musical numbers, and the first of those comes an hour into the film.
More than an all-black movie, which it is, but with a cast of many familiar faces and not real self-awareness of its blackness. It's like the old question, is Chinese food in China "Chinese food" or just "food?"
More than Chicago, which some worried was too cynical to win. Dreamgirls is an emotional musical with highs and lows and real generosity to all of its characters. (Forget the silly talk about Diana Ross being angered by the film. Her character stand-in, played by Beyonce, is a full character who grows into her womanhood. If she were to complain, she would be laughed at.)
The evening, produced by Team DreamAmount, could not have gone much better. It would only be fair to note that it was very much like a premiere, filled will friends and family and it was not unlike a gay cotillion. When wild applause broke out a few times during the film before the anticipated number started, you knew you were in a room with plenty of theater queens.
That said, it was the enthusiasm after many of the numbers that was amazing. At least seven numbers got applause breaks, including the famous take-away at the end of "I Am Telling You," where as the Michael Bennett did with the musical, Bill Condon jumps immediately into the middle of another number. The show must go on.
There isn't a bad performance in the movie. But the powerful surprise is Jennifer Hudson, who will be winning an Oscar this year, no matter what category they run her in.
The studio long ago decided to go supporting, but the HFPA is considering moving her to lead and she is, indeed, the lead of this film. There is a fear of Dame Helen, but the reality is that this performance would win in any category, whether Actress, Supporting Actress, or Best Short Film. The reason to move her to lead would to make an opportunity available for another performance
Beyonce absolutely deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in Dreamgirls. But given the brutal fight for Best Actress slots, I don't believe she can be sure of even a nomination there. As you watch the early parts of the film, it's not real clear that she deserves Academy recognition, but she really soars in the third act with a number of sequences, particularly with her performance of a new Henry Krieger song, "Listen," done almost completely in close-up.
And again Jennifer Hudson will have an Oscar before the end of February.
Eddie Murphy is terrific here. He is not playing "Eddie Murphy." It is a nuanced performance and his singling leaves people wondering whether it was actually him. He, too, gets a new number, "Patience," on which he duets with Anika Noni Rose. Sign him up for a nomination, though the odds on him winning will have a lot to do with who else ends up in the category.
Jamie Foxx really plays the bad guy in the movie. He kind of devolves from well meaning scumbag to megalomaniacal scumbag. He does a nice job, but he is the one character to whom audiences just won't be able to cozy up. Thing is, the film really needed - and got - his strength and presence in the role. It just isn't very forgiving.
Did I mention that Jennifer Hudson can win whatever Oscar she is up for?
The film feels more like something like The Commitments than a full out movie musical. The numbers are big, but most of them are performance. And the storytelling is surprisingly personal. The three acts - 1. Making It, 2. Breaking It, 3. Seeking Redemption - are distinct as in most non-musical dramas. And each of the major characters gets their opportunity to step up.
In classical Condon, the film doesn't scream at you. But it does envelop you and draw you to each character and the overall arc. Anika Noni Rose's character, for instance, is on some level a classic caricature. But then, she turns into a very real young woman. And her choices, even when there are no words to call attention to them, are a part of the film experience.
The thing that really sticks with you about the Dreamgirls experience is that there is a real joy of performance and show business and artistry. There are many terrific films in play for the Oscar season right now. But none has the size and the fun and the revelation of performance that Dreamgirls offers.
The most nominations ever for a film is 14. Here are the 16 that I think Dreamgirls is capable of receiving and *s on the ones I think it can realistically win.
* Best Picture
* Actress - Jennifer Hudson
Supporting Actress - Beyonce Knowles
Supporting Actor - Eddie Murphy
Direction - Bill Condon
Adapted Screenplay - Bill Condon
* Production Design - John Myhre/Tomas Voth/Nancy Haigh
* Costume Design - Sharen Davis
* Editing - Virginia Katz
Cinematography - Tobias Schliesser
Make-Up - Shutchai Tym Buacharern/Francesca Tolot
* Sound - Michael Minkler
Sound Effects Editing - Richard E. Yawn
* Best Original Song - Listen
Best Original Song - Patience
Best Original Song - Love You I Do
Of course, there is still a debate to come on slotting of the actresses. Jack Nicholson in Supporting Actor will be very difficult to beat even for Eddie Murphy.
It still looks like Scorsese's year in Director and musical screenplay adaptations don't tend to win, so Mr. Condon could go Oscarless. But I guess winning Best Picture will just have to suffice.