Fame flitters just beyond the grasp of Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), Deena Jones (Beyonce Knowles) and Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose) when the three girls from the Detroit housing projects fail to place at an amateur talent night. But Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), a shady used car salesman, knows star material when he sees it. Backstage the wannabe recording manager offers the dejected trio a chance to sing backup for R&B soloist Jimmy "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy).
While the girls hit the road with Jimmy, Curtis sells off his car business and uses less-than-ethical means to get the group's music played on mainstream radio stations. He also decides to give the threesome a shot at going out on their own. After renaming the new girl-only group The Dreamers, he secures a gig for them in a mainly white establishment in order to help them crossover from R&B to the more widely accepted pop charts. At their first engagement, Curtis also pulls the full-figured Effie off lead and moves her to backup in favor of the more attractive Deena.
However as he focuses on making Deena a star, Effie becomes more dissatisfied with the arrangement until she is ultimately kicked out. As the unemployed singer struggles to raise a daughter on welfare, Deena, Lorrell and Effie's replacement, Michelle (Sharon Leal), go on to gain international acclaim.
Still the glamorous lifestyle, transatlantic celebrity status and numerous record albums don't always equal happiness. Curtis's constant morphing of his performers' musical style for the sake of increased profits makes him lose sight of the human side of the business and causes growing fractions among the artists.
Dreamgirls, based on the Broadway musical, gives viewers an outstanding soundtrack with vocal performances by several of the actors including 2004 American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson.
Unfortunately it also dishes out a portrayal of the less savory part of the music industry, such as illegal drugs, alcohol use, infidelity and corrupt trade practices. In addition, Curtis' degrading treatment of women and his unscrupulous control tactics leave the trio with an unpleasant aftertaste.
Yet as the girls realize the high cost of fame, they also grow personally. As Effie learns to stand up for her own musical abilities, Deena and Lorrell shake off their starry-eyed daydreams and face the hard reality of a career behind the microphone. For older teen viewers aspiring to the spotlight, the glitz and glamour of center stage may be appealing. However, Dreamgirls is a candid but sometimes content-heavy reminder that all that glitters is not gold.