Bill Condon’s adaptation of the Broadway show Dreamgirls has been a buzzed about Oscar contender for months, and recent screenings have cemented the film’s place in the year end sweepstakes. Paramount/Dreamworks is pushing the picture in a number of categories, including Beyonce for Best Actress and American Idol loser Jennifer Hudson for Best Supporting Actress. After seeing the movie Friday night, I have to say that this doesn’t add up for me.
My full Dreamgirls review should hit this week, but I will tell you that Hudson is remarkable, real, and completely lovable as the member of a 60s girl group with the best voice but the least marketable look. Effie’s song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is one of the most beloved Broadway tunes of the last three decades and Hudson belts it with astonishing energy and emotion – it will leave audiences cheering through their tears. Look, I write for CHUD.com – I’m not serving some sort of celebrity pandering agenda here. This is the real deal, a truly remarkable and historic performance.
Hudson’s definitely good enough for the Oscar, but not Supporting. Effie is the heart of Dreamgirls. Her story, combined with Jamie Foxx’s story, is what the whole film is about. Beyonce is barely OK, and her role doesn’t feel like the center of the film. She’s certainly in the film a lot, but it’s often hanging around while better actors do more interesting things (although the new song added to the film for her, "Listen," is a killer). I have heard some rumors about why the actresses are being pushed in the categories in which they’re being pushed – Beyonce has a Best Actress campaign in her contract, I’ve heard (is it true? Dunno, but I would bet on it) while common wisdom says that Jennifer Hudson stands a decent chance of actually winning Best Supporting as opposed to going against Helen Mirren and Judi Dench and Meryl Streep in Best Actress. And you wouldn’t want two actresses going for the same category, dividing the votes and keeping your film out of the category altogether.
Today was the junket for the film, so I asked producer Laurence Mark about the reasons for the different pushes, and he disagreed with my basic belief that Dreamgirls is about Effie. “It’s easy to see why one would think Effie is the dramatic crux of the movie, because she’s this dramatic role,” said Mark. “The truth is that Beyonce’s journey is the whole movie. It really is the whole movie. Effie’s is not. Although I can understand why people think that because Effie has this dramatic highlight that’s tough to overlook. But I do believe the journey is more Beyonce’s journey.”
Mark had another interesting point to make about the categories. For him it’s very much about the star system. “I also believe in the tradition of… I’ll give you the perfect example: Timothy Hutton was introduced in Ordinary People. There’s something about a star – Beyonce is a star, Jamie Foxx is a star. Jennifer Hudson, the next movie she does, her name will be above the title. I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be. In this movie she’s not. And in the tradition of Timothy Hutton, the Hollywood tradition of ‘And introducing…’, that is generally considered Best Supporting. She’s not going into this a star. You guys and the audience can make her a star, but we can’t make her a star.”
Hudson claims to have not given it much thought. “I don’t know. I don’t really count the minutes and the seconds we’re on the screen to determine who’s the lead. I’m just thankful to be involved in the project."
I’m rooting for Hudson in a big way. It’s rare to see a debut hit this hard – I really think this is one of the all-time classic film debuts. Supporting is where she stands the best chance of going home with an Oscar (I actually think she’s guaranteed it for Supporting), but it feels weird to see this powerhouse performance and this central role being placed a notch below Beyonce feels very, very wrong.