Simon Cowell got it wrong. When Jennifer Hudson was voted off American Idol a few years ago he told her that she was finished. Washed up. That she would likely never work again.
He was wrong.
Hudson is back and gives seasoned vets Jamie Foxx and Beyonce a run for their money as Effie, the castaway Dreamgirl in the big screen adaptation of the Broadway hit. There is Oscar buzz about her performance and she has already earned a Golden Globe nomination.
The story of Dreamgirls is a thinly veiled retelling of the Svengali-like managerial style of Motown boss Berry Gordy and the rise to success and subsequent solo career of Diana Ross and the Supremes under his supervision. Gordy replaced original Supremes lead singer Florence Ballard with the thinner and prettier Ross, exiling Ballard from the group she created. Ballard died in 1976 at age 32 after a long battle with depression and drugs. Only the names and minor details have been changed.
In the fast-paced Dreamgirls version of the story Foxx is Curtis Taylor Jr., a Cadillac salesman turned wannabe music impresario who bounces Effie (Hudson) as lead singer of the Dreams in favor of backup singer Deena Jones (Beyonce). Effie struggles with the betrayal and tries to re-ignite her career while toiling in the shadow of her former band mate and friend.
It’s an all-star cast with Jamie Foxx and Beyonce at the top of the marquee, but it is two of the supporting players who really shine—one newcomer and one veteran.
Eddie Murphy gives the kind of performance here that he has only ever hinted at in other films. As R&B singer James “Thunder” Early—imagine 1966 era James Brown—he blows the doors off, digging deep and creating a memorable character who is as magnetic as he is repulsive.
But the real star of the show is Jennifer Hudson. She brings not only a roof-rattling voice to Effie’s character but also equal measures of sass, dignity, and strength. It’s probably too soon to say this, but Effie just might be the role of a lifetime for Hudson.
Fans of musical theatre have seen some of their favorites—Phantom of the Opera and The Producers come to mind—botched on their way to the screen but Dreamgirls should satisfy even the toughest critics. I think even Simon Cowell might like it.
Eddie Muphy’s cinematic nadir in Norbit may have cost him an Oscar for Dreamgirls, columnist Richard Crouse says.
Eddie Murphy infuriates me. It hasn’t always been that way. Twenty years ago his movies put a broad grin on my face. I loved his silly giggle in Beverly Hills Cop, his version of Greatest Love of All in Coming to America, and the “My mother was like Clint Eastwood with a shoe…” routine from Delirious is one of the funniest monologues ever, but that was when Eddie and I were both much younger.
Now an Eddie Murphy movie is as welcome as a case of gingivitis. That makes me angry. He may be the biggest, most talented star in Hollywood who consistently makes the worst movies. Don’t get me wrong, nobody hits a home run every time, but Murphy’s recent batting average is worse than most.
He’s never been consistent, but in the old days for every stinker like Vampire in Brooklyn he’d make two others that were drop dead funny. Of late though, he’s been stuck in Vampire in Brooklyn mode, trying to suck laughs out of increasingly thin scripts.
Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly on Murphy’s filmography.
The good: In Dreamgirls Murphy gives the kind of performance that he’s only hinted at in other films. As R&B singer James (Thunder) Early — imagine 1966-era James Brown — he blows the doors off, digging deep and creating a memorable character who is as magnetic as he is repulsive.
The bad: Haunted Mansion. It’s a comedy! No! It’s a mystery! Nope, it’s a love story, a ghostly tale and an adventure story. It’s all of those things and less. Mostly it’s a big screen ad for a Disney theme park ride.
The ugly: With so many to choose from — Meet Dave, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, for example — it’s hard to decide but I’ll pick Norbit because it’s the movie that cost Eddie his Oscar. He was nominated for Dreamgirls but had the misfortune to have Norbit open in theatres the week Academy voters were casting their ballots. Any goodwill he accumulated with Dreamgirls evaporated when Oscar tastemakers got a load of him dressed as an aggressive 300 pound woman and the award went elsewhere.
The worst part is, I think he knows the movies stink. He recently told Extra “I have close to fifty movies and it’s like, why am I in the movies? I’ve done that part now.”