Over the weekend, I watched Dreamgirls on DVD with some friends. It’s been a while since I saw it and I think part of me had forgotten how much I enjoy the film. At one point, we were all discussing how glad we were that Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar for playing Effie White. As my friend Jacqui says, there are bits (like “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)”) that are even better than Barbra Streisand on the steamboat in Funny Girl. Personally, I don’t think la Streisand even comes close.
(Digression: I also remember how annoyed I was when not one of the three nominated songs – “Love You I Do”, “Patience” and “Listen” – won the Academy Award for Best Song. The performance of those three songs was the highlight of the Oscars. But political correctness won out when the song from An Inconvenient Truth took home the trophy. I’m all for green issues but, when it comes to music, motown-inspired showtunes beat out rock-styled message songs any day.)
One of the things we chatted about was whether she was nominated in the wrong category. After all, Effie is a lead role. Personally, I would even go so far as to say that it’s the lead role. The plot revolves around her: everything else in the show from the Dreams, to Deena, to Curtis is related through her experience. And even the subplot involving Lorelle and Jimmy is, in some ways, a mirror of what’s going on in the main plot. One of my friends mentioned that maybe it’s because the film is called Dreamgirls and not Effie – but even the title highlights the role because ultimately, as the action of the play unfolds, Effie is pushed out and excluded from the Dreams. She is conspicuous because of her absence.
The balance is thrown out a little in the film with the addition of “Listen” in an attempt (I assume) to give Deena a moment that is as dramatic as “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)” but of course it doesn’t come close to having the dramatic impact that the earlier number has.
So why was Hudson nominated as a supporting actress? Who actually knows? Marketing? Fancy footwork? Her billing? The fact that the producers knew there was no way she would win in the “Best Actress” category? Whatever the reason, it all boils down to movie-making politics rather than anything to do with the film itself. But what a super film it is to revisit!