Dreamgirls (12A)

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The Independent Culture

Musical à clef about a black girl-group who, starting out in Sixties Detroit, break through to white audiences and superstardom when they demote their fabulously talented lead-singer in favour of a prettier, blander back-up: it's so blatantly the story of The Supremes, that it's hard to see what legal or artistic restrictions could have prevented them from using the real names. Its Oscar nominations - eight, more than any other film this year - aren't wrongheaded: Jennifer Hudson, up for Best Supporting Actress, has a fabulous voice and doesn't show any first-time nerves; but she doesn't have the emotional range or the presence to carry the film.

As Jimmy "Thunder" Early, a composite of James Brown, Otis Redding and a couple of others, Eddie Murphy (Best Supporting Actor, and pictured left ) is on fine form, but the part is a caricature.

For all its awards, the story lacks any real rhythm or direction, and occasional perfunctory references to events on the outside don't give it the wider resonance it's after.

The music is a problem, too: some of it is meant to sound sincere and soulful, some is meant to sound sold-out and bland, but it's all pastiche, and the dividing lines aren't clear. As the Ross character, Beyoncé is gorgeous and bland. Whether that's great acting or great casting, time will tell.

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