It was the musical to end all musicals. DreamWorks would spare nothing. It had a dream cast: Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, pop superstar Beyoncé (billed in the movie as Beyoncé Knowles) and Jennifer Hudson, who had gained nationwide attention on a TV talent search. The original Broadway musical had a great book, it told a great story, the rise of Diana Ross as the biggest crossover star of all time. So, what went wrong? You could blame it on the score. Not that it wasn’t a great theater score, but a blockbuster movie needs a hit song, and it didn’t have a single one.
All the characters unofficially had real-life counterparts at Motown, and in fact, Diana Ross had accused the Broadway musical of hijacking her life story. She still claims to have never seen the movie. Accordingly, the film was only a middling success. If it had been directed by Michael Bennett, who staged the Broadway original, it might have been classic, but he was already a tragic victim of AIDS. Numerous attempts to make the movie had been turned down by David Geffen who controlled the rights, having produced the show on Broadway. He wanted to preserve the memory of Bennett’s brilliant staging, which, for those who saw it, played like a movie, constantly moving and evolving. Geffen Films shared the screen rights with Warner Bros, but after their film of the life of singer Frankie Lyman, Why Do Fools Fall in Love died at the box office, the studio bowed out, and allowed Geffen, who was now one of the owners of DreamWorks, to go it alone. They would co-finance the film, but when the budget topped $70 million, they allowed Paramount to assume their deal. The film ultimately made a small profit.
Jennifer Hudson’s show-stopping “And I Am Telling You” number earned her both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. At the time, few realized she had gained 40 pounds to play the role. On the other hand, Beyoncé lost 20 pounds in order to play the svelte Diana Ross counterpart.
Four new songs were written by the composer and lyricist for the film, three of which were nominated by the Academy, which ironically dealt the film a near fatal blow when it failed to nominate the film for Best Picture or Best Director. The Hollywood Foreign Press were more forgiving. The film won three important Golden Globes including Best Musical or Comedy, Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Murphy) and Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Hudson).