Reviewing the Reviews: 'Dreamgirls'

Dream_lBy now, every person with even a passing interest in pop culture knows former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson (left) has won almost universal critical raves for her role as Effie in the current Oscar-contender, Dreamgirls. So deafening has the buzz about Hudson been, in fact, that there’s been little discussion of whether or not her fellow Golden Globe nominee, chart-topping superstar Beyoncé Knowles (right), succeeds in her portrayal of Effie’s rival, Deena. I decided to scour recent newspaper reviews of the hit musical with only one question in mind: Can Beyoncé act? Here’s what the critics had to say:Jack Matthews, New York Daily News: “Knowles has her own show-stopper — a new, last-act Henry Krieger song called ‘Listen’ — and it is pretty much guaranteed to get the movie audience on its feet.”A.O. Scott, New York Times: “[The film] springs to life…when Ms. Hudson lays claim to ‘And I Am Telling You,’ and when Ms. Knowles, late in the movie, lets loose in a recording booth on ‘Listen,’ one of a handful of new songs written for the film. Until that point her character, Deena, has been something of an enigma and, for Curtis, the passive vessel of his ambitions. Ms. Knowles’s performance has been static and detached. In her limited work in movies she has never seemed comfortable with acting, shying away from any emotional display that might compromise her steely, hieratic dignity. But when she sings, she is capable of warmth, vulnerability, even ferocity, all of which she demonstrates in ‘Listen.'”Lou Lumenick, New York Post: “Beyoncé isn’t much more than adequate in the thinly written character of Deena, who is required to do little but look wide-eyed and sexy. A subplot about Curtis’s plans to star her in a Cleopatra movie is positively deadly. Deena does get a new number – ‘Listen’ – and it’s Beyoncé’s big moment, even if she ends up breaking character to deliver it.”Claudia Puig, USA Today: “The weakest link is the stunning Knowles. The camera clearly loves her, and her singing is not in contention, but as an actress, she has a vapid quality. Despite the array of dazzling fashion ensembles, and the effort to channel Diana Ross, her performance remains one-note, particularly in contrast to Hudson’s nuanced portrayal.”addCredit(“Dreamgirls: David James”)

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “The beautiful Knowles (who looks smashing in massive ’60s hair and glitter kitsch) is a better actress when she’s singing; her Deena lacks nuance in the dialogue scenes, but comes to life when the music plays. She’s a standout in ‘Listen,’ a ballad (newly written for the film) aimed at her complex feelings toward the manager, Curtis, who sees her as a commodity. Belting out the lyric ‘I found the voice you think you gave to me,’ she’s become a small tower of strength.”William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “The movie is a showcase for Golden Globe nominees Knowles, who deftly makes the transition from timid backup-singer to spoiled diva.”Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald: “There is also Knowles, who barely gets by on her limited acting skills, but is given her own showstopping number, ‘Listen,’ which was not part of the stage version but gives the pop singer her own indelible moment in a movie in which she otherwise tends to fade into the background.”Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Knowles is surely the loveliest creature in the movies, Jessica Rabbit come to life. And while she mesmerizes while singing ‘Listen,’ her declaration of independence from Curtis (‘I followed the voice you gave me, but now I gotta find my own’), only in this sequence is she anything more than decorative. Someone, please sit her down with a stack of Judy Garland DVDs and show her that acting is just like singing, you have to feel the words.”James Verniere, Boston Herald: “Knowles is not upstaged entirely by Hudson and has her own spotlight moment belting out the tune ‘Listen.'”Wesley Morris, Boston Globe: “Knowles isn’t an embarrassment. She even happens to be a more imaginative singer than Hudson. If she can’t out-belt her costar, she slyly out-interprets her in their argumentative duets. But mostly she’s a sweet nonentity. Her performance as a criminally aggrieved girlfriend in her recent ‘Ring the Alarm’ video was more convincing.”

Comments (87 total) Add your comment
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  • Kari

    Jennifer Hudson is this movie – Beyonce was just an embarassment, best actress my a$$

  • gabe

    Honey, you put too much credence on what the Hollywood Foreign Press chooses as the best of the best. When they’re right, they’re right but when they’re wrong, they’re very wrong. Beyonce’s nomination is a clear brown nose moment.

  • Louise

    Beyonce deserves a Razzie for that performance, not a Golden Globe nomination.

  • Sally

    The Deena character in the movie is not played by an actress but by a singer. The Deena character in the play was played by a singer-actress (Sheryl Ralph), and therein lies the difference. But the part in the movie was not written to highlight any strengths, but as I remember in the play, Deena was a much stronger character and more ambitious. (someone correct me)
    I think Beyonce was serviceable, and if she’s smart she will stick with comedies and musicals. But the main point is being missed – Beyonce, as well as the others in this movie have reached another audience; clearly for Beyonce a crossover audience. For Eddie Murphy, it’s the “gee I didn’t know he could sing & dance” audience. Big surprises all around.

  • Casey

    The whole point — at least on stage — was that Deena was promoted to lead singer even though she lacked the powerful voice of Effie. By giving Deena that final song, it completely undermines the premise of the show, and it was jarringly clear that it was added for no other reason than to give Beyonce a song. Probably the only way she would accept the role. Leave it to Hollywood…

  • jim

    I have to agree.. I watched this movie with anticipation but was felt let down.. Beyonce is not a very good actress and the addition of “Listen” to the soundtrack was an obvious attempt to detract from Jennifer Hudson’s performance of “and I’m telling you”.
    The movie was ok.. I don’t think it’s Oscar worthy, Chicago did a better job at making you believe the actors were actually singing on camera not just lip synching like in this movie. I don’t think Jennifer Hudson deserves an Oscar yet, when she was not singing her acting was kind of wooden. I will give it up for Eddie Murhpy and Jamie Foxx though.. they were great in this movie.

  • Dana

    Why is beyonce being criticized for playing the character she was given, exactly as written. Deena in the script is an empty vessel, someone so passive she can be easily manipulate.
    As far as Jennifer is concerned, I loved her, clearly did what was called for in the role but I didn’t see any “depths of character” – all she was called to do was go from angry to indignant to angrier, that’s like acting the whole gamut of emotions from A to B.
    I’m not saying she was bad, all I’m saying is that the hype/praise of one and the criticism of the other are truly out of proportion.

  • Jon

    I thought they all were very good. Having seen DREAMGIRLS on the stage more time then I care to count (including my first time in 1983 when Miss Holliday was brilliant as ever)– I thought Beyonce did a very good job. She was not supposed to be this brilliant character. She only gets a back bone when she realizes she has been played as a puppett.


    Who cares whether she can act? SHe is absolutely breathtaking to look at (and i’m a straight girl!). What I want to know is: why isn’t Danny Glover getting more acclaim for his quiet and powerful performance? And why isn’t everyone talking about what a stiff performance Jamie Foxx (who’s normally quite good, i think) gave in this movie?

  • Nick@AwardsAvenue

    Beyonce was not an embarrassment. It just amazes me that people call her out for being low key, when that is clearly what is called for in the character. Deena is the anti-Effie, and Beyonce plays the part perfectly. Is she Meryl Streep? NO! I think the negativity is coming from the years of Beyonce overexposure. People want her to fail. So, they have latched on to a perceived lack of strength in a weak character.
    Saying that, I fault Bill Condon with the staging of “Listen.” While I think the song is a great addition, and it shows the progression of the character of Deena (though it does get to be a bit of a Tina Turner moment). The fact that she would be singing it in a recording session with Curtis is just asinine. He never would have allowed her to record a song like that.

  • Elizabeth

    Finally saw the movie. I was very impressed with Jennifer Hudson – not so with Beyonce at all. It was like she was doing an impression of herself doing a Diana Ross impression. I know the movie is based on her, but still, but a little imagination into it. Did anyone else think the resemblance of Destiny’s Child and Dreamgirls was ironic (replacing members, etc)?

  • Ed

    When Beyonce’s song “Listen” came on, I felt that it was a little forced. After doing some research I found out the song was written for the movie, or really for Beyonce.
    “Listen” was all right but that song clearly (I can’t say it anymore CLEARER)was meant so that Bouncy wouldn’t get upstaged. That’s where I lost all respect for her as an actress.
    Also, as I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder how much Beyonce related to the issue of becoming solo, as he character did.

  • blackpower

    Forget the girls, the saving grace for me was the brillant performances by Eddie & Jamie!

  • Joe C

    As a non-Beyonce fan, the key for her will be if she ever attempts a movie WHEN SHE DOESN’T SING! Then you can judge if she can act.

  • Irene

    Beyonce is the worst in this film. Anyone could have done that part. She was a BIG let down!!!!

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