Two Dramas from Bill Condon
Dreamgirls (May 20/07)
With its uniformly unmemorable songs and shockingly subpar performances (Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for this?), Dreamgirls is undoubtedly one of the worst mainstream musicals ever to emerge out of Hollywood. There's little doubt that writer/director Bill Condon's overtly familiar screenplay - which follows the rise and fall of a '60s-era soul group - plays a significant role in the film's downfall, as even the most dunderheaded viewer will be left rolling their eyes at the storyline's increasingly predictable trajectory. The egregiously dark atmosphere only exacerbates the movie's various problems, as Condon - along with cinematographer Tobias Schliessler - places the emphasis on visuals that are relentlessly smoky and downright unpleasant (even Chicago wasn't quite this drab). Of course, such things would be fairly easy to overlook if Condon had managed to include at least one compelling character; the filmmaker instead offers up a series of one-dimensional cardboard cutouts, with Hudson's Effie White the most obvious example of this. That Hudson offers up a seriously underwhelming performance surely doesn't help matters, as the actress' incompetent work ensures that Effie remains an obnoxious and entirely unsympathetic figure during the film's disastrously overlong running time. And although the movie does improve slightly in its closing half hour, there's just no denying that Dreamgirls is primarily nothing less than an utterly interminable piece of work.
A seriously by-the-numbers biopic, Kinsey details the life and times of noted human-sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) - with the film charting his rough childhood and marriage to Laura Linney's Clara through to his eventual success (and downfall) in his chosen field. There's little doubt that, for the most part, Kinsey feels as though it's emerged directly from a template for movies of this ilk, as writer/director Bill Condon has infused the proceedings with an excessively conventional feel that's reflected in its myriad of underwhelming elements (eg the emphasis on the love/hate relationship between Kinsey and his overbearing father, John Lithgow's Alfred). The movie's glossy sheen ensures that one's efforts at embracing either the material or the characters fall flat on an all-too-regular basis, with the hands-off atmosphere exacerbated by a deliberate pace that often borders on the oppressive (ie the whole thing is, by and large, simply lifeless). And while the film does improve slightly once Kinsey begins his research in earnest - ie anything's better than the initial emphasis on his work with gall wasps - Condon's meandering sensibilities result in a hopelessly repetitive midsection that inevitably cancels out the movie's positive attributes (eg the admittedly strong performances, for one). By the time the aggressively tedious Kinsey-experiences-his-downfall stretch rolls around, Kinsey has certainly established itself as a forgettable and egregiously routine drama that's rarely as entertaining or informative as Condon has clearly intended.