Like a Broadway musical, "Dreamgirls" debuted last night in simultaneous "One Night Only" sneak screenings in anticipation of its release next month. Will audiences flock to the Jamie Foxx–Beyonce Knowles period musical? Is "Dreamgirls" still a contender for all those rumored Oscar noms, now that people have actually seen the film?
The answers to both questions remain to be seen, but if the San Francisco screening was any indication, DreamWorks and Paramount can expect decent results commercially and critically (at least, judging from the raucous applause from the audience).
Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, "Dreamgirls" follows the Supremes-like rise and fall of the fictional girl group through two decades. Led by the bold-voiced, sassy lead singer Effie (Jennifer Hudson, in her first role ever — "American Idol" notwithstanding), the naïve Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) and pretty, ambitious Deena (Beyonce Knowles) form The Dreamettes, a talented but struggling trio in 1960s Detroit.
When they team up with a determined manager, Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), the Dreamettes become the backing singers for R&B singer James "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy) and get their first taste of success. But as Curtis becomes more intent on turning the girls into a commercially viable act, Effie finds herself pushed out of the group as her old friends move on without her in their quests for fame.
The audience in attendance with me was mixed; a few press, lots of women, some men, all doubtless fans of musicals — ’cause let’s face it, only people who enjoy the cinema’s most reviled (by non-fans) genre would jump at the chance to watch the year’s biggest silver screen song-and-dance.
That said, there was a whole lot of clapping going on, and not just during the credits. Many times throughout the film’s two hour and five minutes, it was almost as if we were in a live theater where the performer-audience interaction necessitates the artist-gratifying phenomenon of spontaneous applause. Heartfelt ballad? Applause. Sassy one-liner? Applause. Another heartfelt ballad? Applause.
[Actually, the thought did occur during one of the film’s many shows-within-a-show that the theater surround sound made it hard to discern between scripted in-movie applause and the applause of actual people around me. Sneaky marketing trick? I wonder…]
It is no coincidence that first-time actor Jennifer Hudson drew the majority of this applause; her performance is — surprisingly, soulfully, impressively — deserving of early Oscar speculation that she might make for a solid Supporting Actress candidate. Not so much for rumors that "Dreamgirls" could make Best Picture. Short of writing a full review (look for one to come), I’ll leave it at that.
Over at the LA Times’ Gold Derby, Tom O’Neill is gushing about the flick and the response it got at the Beverly Hills screening tonight: "We now, officially, have a best picture frontrunner and one that’s going to be tough to beat."
O’Neill is also pegging J.Hud for an Oscar nomination — not as Best Supporting Actress, as the blogosphere has been ruminating, but as Best Actress. He’s right; she simply nails the film’s signature song, "And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going," manages to outshine professional diva Beyonce, and holds her own in non-singing scenes opposite the likes of Jamie Foxx and Danny Glover.
The official early release of "Dreamgirls" starts December 15, when the so-called "road show" opens in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. During these exclusive engagements, theatergoers can peruse special making-of displays showcasing the film’s production design and costume design, plus purchase exclusive "Dreamgirls" merchandise and the soundtrack from lobby displays, and enjoy the luxury of assigned-seat ticketing, much like going to live theater! And, just like live theater, the tickets are pricier — $25 a pop — but you also get a limited edition program, and the privilege of watching a potential Oscar contender days before its nationwide release on Christmas Day.
"Dreamgirls" is adapted and directed by Bill Condon (Oscar-nominated for the screenplay of 2002’s "Chicago") and stars Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, and Danny Glover.
Watch the trailer here!