by J.D. Roth

Somewhere along the way, Kris and I developed the tradition of seeing a movie (or, sometimes, more than one) on Christmas Day. I think this stems mostly from the fact that all of our Christmas celebrations are finished before the day itself, so that we’re left with a lot of time on our hands. Plus it’s kind of fun to venture forth for a mundane task on a day that the rest of the world shuts down.

Except that in the past decade, more and more people have developed the same habit.

The first Christmas film we can recall seeing is Schindler’s List in 1993. (Kind of a downer, I’m sure you’ll agree.) Because this is the season for Oscar-caliber pictures, those are the sort that we usually see. The worst Christmas film we ever saw was Gangs of New York. We were joined by the Mirons that day, and the other three in our group hated the film. I thought it was okay, but certainly no Oscar-worthy.

Yesterday Tiffany joined us to see Dreamgirls, a movie that has already received its fair share of Oscar buzz. Dreamgirls, a musical, is a fictionalized account of the rise of Diana Ross and The Supremes. It stars Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, and Eddie Murphy, and features the debut of Jennifer Hudson, a young woman with a magnificent set of lungs.

Dreamgirls gets a lot of things right. It is one of the best-directed films I’ve ever seen. Or maybe it’s just well-edited. It zooms along at an exhilarating pace, never feeling rushed, but never lingering over any scene for too long. (Kris felt that some of the numbers are ill-conceived — she cited “Family” as too stagey and over-the-top, for example.) The acting is good. The script, though trite, is adequate. This is a well-made film.

Its greatest weakness is a lack of catchy songs. Like most modern stage musicals (Dreamgirls made its Broadway debut 25 years ago, on 20 December 1981), the songs are too “busy”, with little melodic hook. Still, there are some knock-outs. The film’s centerpiece is Jennifer Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, which she belts out of the park. (Many reviewers are writing that Dreamgirls is worth seeing for this number alone. They’re not wrong.)

Dreamgirls is a fine piece of entertainment — well-made and brisk. Like many films, it lacks a certain something that might have made it great, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in the running for Best Picture. (And there’s little doubt that “I Am Telling You” will win for Best Song.)

Here’s a schizophrenic trailer for the film:

And here’s a clip from the show’s second-best number, “Listen”, which Knowles nails:

Finally, here’s an amateur production of the show’s centerpiece confrontation, including “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (which begins at about the 3:45 mark):

Meanwhile, at home we’ve been watching some of our traditional Christmas films. We haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life yet this year, but we’ve seen two of our other favorites: Meet Me in St. Louis and Love Actually (the latter of which we’ve seen twice now).

Updated: 26 December 2006

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