Dream Girls has a moderately serious narrative theme that has to do with the difference between artistic talent and “packaging” of talent for commercial success. In a traditional “fall from grace” storyline, a group of talented black singers is able to achieve fame only after allowing themselves to be “packaged”. By two-thirds of the way through the movie, this narrative theme had made its point in such a powerful way that I felt like running out into the parking lot carrying signs that read: Highly packaged art is evil! Then I noticed that my foot was tapping to the rhythm of the music, highly packaged music playing out on the screen; music that was conveying, simultaneously, a narrative theme that packaged music is evil, and a musical experience that made me tap my feet. Yeeeks!
I have never seen the broadway musical that this film is based on, so I do not know how the issue of self-parody was handled in the original screenplay. However, it seems to me that the screenplay for this film is destined to failure. To the extent that you buy into the narrative theme, it is hard to enjoy the (packaged) musical you are watching. To the extent that you enjoy the musical, that very fact disrupts the power of the narrative theme.
On a side note, my wife Marilyn happened to notice that there is an entry in the Andy Warhol Diaries (Warner Books, 1989) dated January 27, 1983 in which Andy accompanies Diana Ross from New York to Atlantic city. The diary entry states: “And we talked about David Geffen. I told her she should really be friends with him again because he was in with that crowd, and she said that they had been really good friends, that he was so great to her when her mother had cancer. … So I said ‘Well, what happened?’ And she sort of said Dreamgirls, the musical that’s about the Supremes, but they don’t call them the Supremes. Geffin produced it. She said that at first she was going to sue but then she didn’t.”
This suggests a potentially much more powerful film to be made about Dreamgirls, a film in which the major narrative theme is betrayal.