Thought #1: The Best Supporting Actress
The Best Supporting Actress performance in this film, without a doubt, comes from Anika Noni Rose as Lorell. (And, let it be clear, StinkyLulu sez that with Jennifer Hudson in the category -- see Thought#5 below.) To be sure, Hudson's Effie delivers showstopping number after showstopping number while Rose's Lorell mostly brings on the back-up BUT taking things note-for-note and step-for-step and beat-for-beat it's clear: Rose's Lorell is perhaps the most fully executed characterization in the film. Consider how the three principal Dreams bridge the "on-stage" musical numbers with their "off-stage" scenes. Hudson's mostly just "doing choreography" with Effie nowhere to be seen, at least until she's working in close-up. Knowles' confidently radiates Deena when singing and posing but becomes distractingly tentative when a dialogue scene begins. In electrifying contrast, Rose's Lorell is as vividly present and alive in every ensemble number as she is in every "off-stage" scene. Every one of Rose's "on-stage" oo-oohs and hip swirls and waving hand gestures show Lorell as clearly as her "off-stage" giggles, mediations and heartbreaks. Rose's performance is, quite simply, the best in film.
Thought #2: Faster! Louder! Flashier!
The backlash against Dreamgirls has begun, perhaps inevitably given the year of unrelenting hype. And while it would be frankly nasty if the timing of this backlash led to the film's being disregarded by the major awards, the consensus emerging among Lulu's critically inclined pals (exhibits A & B) is spot on. The pacing in this film is just awful -- unrelenting and exhausting. So many goodies just piled on the tray, with little chance to relax and savor the treats. (Thankfully, some of the production design -- the video montages, the album covers, the interiors, the photo shoots -- gave some time to catch up, but even that's rife with sensory overload.) It's like Hollywood now thinks a musical has to have more glitz than Chicago and more energy than Moulin Rouge! but what often results -- especially without the applause breaks that come in live theatre -- is an onslaught of entertainment so glib and so manic that it's just tiring.
Thought #3: Why're People Being So Mean to Beyoncé?
The queens have really had it in for poor little Miss Knowles, haven't they? It's not like StinkyLulu's a fan (at all) but...Knowles' performance as Deena is absolutely competent, with flashes of genuine power even. To be sure, Knowles is at her best in the musical numbers, where she's able to track Deena's growing confidence and style as a performer, and in wordless poses, where she ably conveys Deena's myriad insecurities and misgivings even as she discovers that she loves being in the spotlight. And, at a crucial moment, she acts circles around her more celebrated, newly "introduced" costar. So, while StinkyLulu would have rather seen the compelling Sharon Leal in the role of Deena (instead of in the thankless part of Michelle), Knowles' Deena is by no stretch the weakest link in this acting chain. (No, that honor belongs to the only Oscar winner among the principals.)
Thought #4: StinkyLulu Loves Loretta Devine
Why oh why oh couldn't there have been more cameos? Ken Page and Loretta Devine and Eddie Mekka and Hinton Battle all just whetted StinkyLulu's voracious appetite for more bit parts as quiet homage to great stars of the musical in the 1970s. (On a different tack, even seeing Jaleel White was a kick.) But it's just strange and wrong not to have Sheryl Lee Ralph somewhere in the mix -- like the reframed role of Deena's mother for example. And though it's hard to imagine Jennifer Holliday fitting on a movie screen -- perhaps as Curtis' Aunt? -- it's sad that the opportunity was missed...
Thought #5: Jennifer Hudson's Limits
Oh boy. All of StinkyLulu's greatest hopes and biggest fears were realized in Jennifer Hudson's performance as the iconic Effie. She brings down the house again and again and again (the late afternoon Albuquerque audience burst into spontaneous applause for Hudson's Effie no fewer than three times) and yet...it's a distressingly incomplete performance. And it basically boils down to the fact that, over and over and over again, Hudson gives next to nothing unless she's in close-up. Within the focal moments of the narrative and score, Hudson's Effie is captivating and often thrilling. In the in-betweens, it's mostly Hudson just standing there or awkwardly shoopadooping while wearing Effie's costume. Unless the camera's right up in her face, Hudson gives nothing -- least of all the necessary emotional architecture to bridge Effie's big moments. It's a strangely discordant thing: Hudson's performance contributes some of the year's best screen moments while also punctuating most of them with some of the worst flat-footed, boring and banal acting StinkyLulu's seen in some time.
So, lovely reader, do you have any Dreamgirls thoughts? Do tell...