Dreamgirls is a 2006 American musical film, directed by Bill Condon and jointly produced and released by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures. The film debuted in three special road show engagements beginning December 15, 2006, with a nationwide release on December 25, 2006 and a home video release on May 1, 2007. Dreamgirls won three awards at the 64th Golden Globe Awards ceremony in 2007, including Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, and won two Oscars at the 79th Academy Awards.
A period piece set in the 1960s and 1970s with a primarily ensemble African-American cast, Dreamgirls is adapted from the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name. The musical was based on the history and evolution of American R&B music during the eras of doo-wop, soul, the Motown Sound, funk, and disco. In addition, the stage musical contains several allusions to the lives and careers of Motown Records act The Supremes, a connection the film version expands upon. Dreamgirls follows the lives of Effie White, Deena Jones, and Lorrell Robinson, three young women who form an R&B singing trio from Detroit, Michigan called “The Dreamettes”. Thanks to manipulative agent and record executive Curtis Taylor, Jr., the Dreamettes become famous as the backing group for soul singer James “Thunder” Early. Conflict arises when Curtis transforms “The Dreamettes” into the pop-friendly “Dreams,” particularly when he has Deena replace Effie as both lead singer of the group and as his romantic interest.
The film adaptation of Dreamgirls stars Jamie Foxx, BeyoncÃ© Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson, who won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Effie White. The film also features Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson, Sharon Leal, and Hinton Battle. Produced by Laurence Mark, Dreamgirls was adapted for the screen by director Bill Condon from the original Broadway book by Tom Eyen and the Broadway songs by Eyen and Henry Krieger. Four new songs, composed by Krieger with various lyricists, were added for this film.
As in the original stage musical, the plot of Dreamgirls is broken up into two sections or acts: the first taking place from 1962 to 1966, and the second taking place from 1973 to 1975.
The film begins in Detroit, Michigan in 1962, as an amateur African-American girl group known as The Dreamettes enter a talent competition at the Detroit Theater. Backstage, the three girls â€” full-figured lead singer Effie White, Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson â€” meet Curtis Taylor, Jr., an ambitious Cadillac dealer with plans of breaking into the music business. Placing himself as their manager, Curtis arranges for the Dreamettes to tour as backup for a regional R&B star, James “Thunder” Early. The tour takes the company – also including Effie’s songwriting brother C.C. and Jimmy’s manager Marty – across the country on the chitlin’ circuit.
Hoping to help Jimmy and the girls cross over to mainstream audiences, Curtis starts his own record label, Rainbow Records (“The Sound of Tomorrow”), out of his car dealership’s office, and makes C.C. his head songwriter. However, when Rainbow’s first single fails after a white pop group releases a cover version, Curtis and his sidekick Wayne turn to payola. By paying the right people, Curtis manages to get Jimmy and the Dreamettes to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and into a headlining gig at the Apollo Theater. Offstage, Effie is quickly becoming infatuated with the slick-talking Curtis, and Jimmy – a married man – begins an adulterous affair with Lorrell, who becomes equally as lovesick as Effie.
Marty grows weary of Curtis’ plans to make Jimmy’s image and sound more pop-friendly, to the point that he walks out on Jimmy, both his client and best friend. However, when Curtis finds that he cannot completely remake Jimmy Early into a pop act, he shifts his attention back to the Dreamettes. Feeling that Effie’s voice is too “special” and her figure too large to attract white audiences, Curtis appoints the slimmer Deena as the lead singer of the Dreamettes. Though both Effie and Deena are disapproving of the change at first, they both learn to accept it.
With the aid of new songs and a new more glamorous image, Curtis and C.C. transform The Dreamettes into The Dreams, a top selling pop act whose popularity comes to rival that of The Beatles by 1965. However, the betrayed Effie does not take kindly to being reduced to Deena’s backup, and begins acting out, becoming even more unruly when Curtis’ affections also turn towards Deena. When Effie, feeling ill, does not turn up to rehearse for the Dreams’ debut in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve 1966 , Curtis replaces Effie with his secretary, Michelle Morris. Effie, who has just learned she is pregnant, arrives at the Caesar’s Palace venue just as Michelle does, and after a nearly violent argument, finds herself without her group, without her brother, and without Curtis.
Eight years later, in 1973, Effie has become a depressed but caring welfare mother, and her career in music is over. She and her nine-year-old daughter Magic live alone in the burnt-out inner city of Detroit with only Effie’s father Ronald to look in on them. On the other hand, Rainbow Records has moved to Los Angeles, where it prospers with Deena Jones & the Dreams and many other pop acts. Wanting to expand his empire into film, Curtis plans to have an unwilling Deena, now his wife, star in a blaxploitation musical version of Cleopatra.
Though still part of the Rainbow roster, Jimmy Early’s stardom has long faded, and Curtis has little interest in revitalizing his career. Unsatisfied with both his wife Melba and his long-term mistress Lorrell, Jimmy turns to drugs for affection. Meanwhile, C.C. continues to reach out to Effie, who stubbornly ignores the letters and money he sends. Eventually, Effie swallows her pride and, with Marty as her manager, returns to singing and secures gigs at a small Detroit club.
In 1974, Rainbow Records hosts a tenth anniversary TV special. Midway through his set, Jimmy decides that he cannot sing any more “sad songs”, so he breaks down onstage and launches into a wild James Brown-type funk number. The audience seems to love it, but the act goes too far when Jimmy drops his pants on live television. Curtis consequently terminates Jimmy’s contract, and Lorrell reluctantly ends the eight-year affair.
Shortly after the special, Deena meets with a film producer and writer in an attempt to get a role in a grittier film than Curtis’ glossy Cleopatra update, and after some negotiations they agree to give her the film role. Back at Rainbow Records, C.C. walks out on Curtis and the label after learning that Curtis has taken C.C.’s latest composition and turned it into a rhythm-heavy dance track (identifiable as early disco). His resignation is interrupted, however, by the news that Jimmy Early has been found dead at an L.A. hotel from a heroin overdose.
C.C. leaves L.A. and Michelle, now his girlfriend, to return to Detroit and find Effie. The two siblings reconcile and work together to produce Effie’s comeback single, “One Night Only”. Just as the record begins gaining radio play in Detroit, however, Curtis strikes. Using payola, he forces radio DJs to play a disco cover of “One Night Only” by Deena Jones & the Dreams instead of Effie’s original, and the Dreams’ version becomes a major hit in early 1975.
Curtis has also learned of Deena’s covert meetings with other film producers and asserts his control over his wife. Rebuffed, Deena sneaks into Curtis’ office, where she discovers evidence of Curtis’ payola schemes and a copy of Effie’s version of “One Night Only”. She calls Effie and C.C., who arrive at the Rainbow offices with Marty and a lawyer. As Deena and Effie reconcile, Curtis works out a deal with the lawyer to avoid being reported to the FBI for payola: Rainbow Records will fund a new label for C.C., which will allow Effie’s record national distribution. Curtis then confronts Deena, only to find that Effie’s victory has inspired Deena to leave him and make it on her own.
As a result, Deena Jones & the Dreams give a farewell performance at the Detroit Theater. At the conclusion of the concert, Effie joins Deena, Lorrell, and Michelle onstage and the reunited Dreams give one final performance of their signature song, “Dreamgirls”, with Effie singing lead. As the concert ends, Curtis notices Magic in the front row and seemingly realizes that he is the girl’s father.