The most remarkable thing about this film is how old fashioned it is. Bill Condon has managed to “reinvent” the musical by simply ignoring MTV, and for that I guess many a purist are quite satisfied. The camera doesn’t move so much; the editing is not pushed to front and center; performers are allowed to sing and emote in full and medium shots. There is little razzle-dazzle (Krieger and Eyen ain’t no Kander and Ebb, that’s for certain and Bill Condon ain’t no Baz Luhrmann for that matter). Is it entertaining? Sure, in fits and starts.
Everything written about Jennifer Hudson is true; she’s the heart of the film and she gives it everything she’s got (she’ll win her Oscar; it’s almost too good of a fit, but Beyonce will probably walk away with her own statue for the “original song” she helped co-write). Nevertheless, those groups out there searching for a new diva to project their dreams onto have found one in Hudson (much as they did with Jennifer Holliday twenty-five years ago). The film soars in a few sections but it is, more often than not, earthbound as it expends a great amount of effort packing so much story into 122 minutes. It’s a faux bio-pic about the mercenary rise of a black recording company (think Barry Gordy and Motown); it’s a faux bio-pic about the rise and fall of the Dreamettes (their lovers, boyfriends, and family members); it’s a glamorous tale of stardom and power; and it’s a social history of black entrepreneurship (not to mention the white man’s appropriation of aformentioned product) during the sixties and seventies. The biggest problem however are the songs. They just don’t live up to the work the film’s narrative is attempting to honor (Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, James Brown, etc.). Eddie Murphy is a lot of fun to watch but his character is somewhat marginalized by the drama and he ends up the victim of a cliched plot contrivance. It’s nice to see Danny Glover on the screen again. Jamie Foxx is somewhat out of his element (he kind of talks his way through songs and is constantly upstaged) not to mention the fact that the film transforms his desire to control his own destiny into something villainous (black masculinity gets the short staw in this story). The mise-en-scene is over-stuffed, but there are some set pieces that linger in my memory. I’m not sure exactly what all the fuss is about, but it was worth seven bucks and probably best to see it on the big screen if anyone cares. Plus, Jim from “The Office” shows up for a cameo (alongside John Lithgow wearing what must be the worst wig of 2006)!