That story, for those weak on music history, is loosely based on the rise and fall of The Supremes, whose original lead singer Florence Ballard was replaced by Diana Ross, whom Motown founder Berry Gordy found prettier, skinnier and more likely to cross over to white audiences. In Dreamgirls, ambitious car salesman-turned-talent manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Foxx) replaces sassy, brassy belter Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) as lead singer of the Dreams with her childhood pal and backup singer Deena Jones (Beyonce), for essentially the same reasons. Set in Detroit against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, the story follows the group’s struggle for equality in a music industry that allows white artists to co-opt black music and water it down until it’s deemed fit for mainstream consumption. But the only color Curtis sees is green, and with Deena as his malleable wife he begins to drain the color from the Dreams so they can play white clubs, top pop charts and live Hollywood’s champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
From the flashy costumes and lively music to the performances themselves, the group’s razzle-dazzle rise is truly a wonder to behold, with audiences literally cheering the musical numbers as if it were still the ‘80s, and Jennifer Holliday was still tearing the roof off the sucker on Broadway. Which brings us to Hudson, making her big screen debut in the role that earned Holliday a Tony Award. As Effie, the former American Idol contestant grabs you by the balls and rips your heart in two, delivering a gutsy performance that begs for an Oscar nomination and an emotionally devastating take on “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” that dares you not to feel every last word in your bones. She’s arguably the brightest light in a mesmerizing film in which every single member of the cast and crew gets their moment to shine, making this a tough frontrunner to beat for Best Picture honors.