Whereas most major movies these days rely on carefully calibrated publicity campaigns to build and sustain Oscar buzz, the press has spontaneously touted Dreamgirls as an Oscar "lock" since before casting was complete. But 13 months later, most major critics have seen the film, and their returned verdicts are decidedly mixed. Whilst the musical certainly has its fans (such as our own James Rocchi), critics from major publications such as The New York Times, Premiere, Salon and New York Magazine have dared to come out against the film.
Lest you think I'm exaggerating by using the word "dared," take a look at the disclaimers some of the guys and gals have tacked before their reviews. "I know I'm going to bring down the room by saying I think it's just okay," writes David Edelstein at NY Mag. "Well, Jennifer Hudson is more than okay..." Aaron Hillis, a Premiere writer moonlighting at The Reeler, also anticipates that reviewing the film negatively will somehow brand him as an outcast: "I'm bound to take some abuse for being a real holiday Scrooge [by] saying I don't think Dreamgirls is particularly good." I find these reviews fascinating, not because they're negative, but because they contain such a palpable sense of anxiety on the part of the critic. Dreamgirls seemed like such a prohibitive frontrunner at the time it was screened for the press that anyone who didn't like it must have wondered if they were missing something. It certainly seemed unlikely that The New York Times' A.O. Scott, who is not generally known for staking out unpopular opinions, would dismiss Bill Condon's musical as "disappointing."