Friday, 23 April 2010

Forgotten Characters 2:8

When you star in a glitzy musical with a stunted character and no musical number of your own is there any way for you to thrive? The natural answer is no, you end up being forgotten. But sometimes, a paradox occurs, and both happen. There are some performances that are excellent, but due to whatever mitigating factors they end up becoming forgotten - unfortunately so. That is what happened to this excellence performance:
Anika Noni Rose in Dreamgirls
as Lorrell 
When Dreamgirls came out in 2006 it took the world by storm, sort of, and it seemed everyone was enamoured with the newly discovered Jennifer Hudson. As a book musical, Dreamgirls exists primarily as a showcase for the actor playing Effie White and Hudson's Effie, though often uninspired, was competent. However, it was the nuanced performance of Noni Rose that impressed me the most. At 34 Rose was tasked with playing the naive Lorrell Robinson from a teenager unto adulthood. It was a conceit, but one that has worked time and time again. Noni Rose does have a youthful look to her, but it was more than aesthetic that solidified her performance. A professional theatre actress herself, Rose was able to do something that her fellow Dreamettes could not do. Hudson's issue was that she acts only when the camera focuses on her only, she fails to provide a realistic Effie when she was not the forefront on the scene, Knowles Deena is a realistic entity in her song and in dancing, but in her spoken lines there is a nervousness that is only too palpable. However, with Anika, the immaturity and simplicity of her character is understood. From her early scene as she laments over the state of their wigs, a simple line reading like "Deena, it's so...different" suggests eons more than the line would normally allow her to do. The camera may be focusing on Effie White in "Move" but notice the wan smile of Lorrell. She's so oblivious to everything, she's just along for the ride and it's that very characterisation that defines her role.  She's not unaware of the tensions in the group as they perform the number "Heavy", she simply chooses to ignore them going to her own "happy place". This is what makes her passionate plea I'm as much a part of this group as everybody else so poignant in "It's All Over".
It's actually a running theme of a woman being pushed the brink, in Act One eventually she reaches her peak with Effie and Act Two turns to her torrid affair with Jimmy. She really isn't given much, so she must act her way through the bland moments. Like Jimmy's decision to light up at the Christmas part, she manages to portray so much with just an aversion of her eyes. If only she was given the chance to perform Lorrell's number from the stage "Ain't No Party". The truncated "Lorrell Loves Jimmy" as she leaves him is too short to present all the loveliness of her voice we've waited for, and "Patience" doesn't allow us to get inside her character. That makes her performance all the more worthy, like her frenzied run through the hall after hearing of Jimmy's death or her looks of sadness as they sing "Hard to Say Goodbye". Whenever I hear the word Dreamgirls I remember my favourite (incidental) line-reading as she turns to the exaggerated Eddie Murphy and says the sagest lines of the film. "Oh Mr Earlie, you so crazy." It's a brilliant turn from a forgotten woman, but she easily makes my top 5 Supporting Women for 2006.
Did Anika impress you with her shrewd acting choices in Dreamgirls? Or was she rightly shafted from any love?

Previously Forgotten...


Runs Like A Gay said...

Whenever I think about Dreamgirls my mind always draws me to Keith Robinson's performance as C.C. White. Less showy (and less singy) than most of the other roles but he really has a journey to take and his eyes are always telling a story.

Oh, his eyes...

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Ah, yes. Though I really did like JHud in the movie, for me it was *all* about Anika Noni Rose. She's a backup singer supported by two leads, as far as I'm concerned.

Marcy said...

I love Dreamgirls. It's the best diva film ever.

And truthfully, I loved all the performances in the film. Even Jamie Foxx. Not even kidding. When Jennifer Hudson acts when the spotlight is on her, I felt that that IS her character...she is only willing to give it her all only if she is in the center of attention. And Beyonce's nervous delivery fits her girlish character well...that's just who the character is. And Rose does a fine job as well. How she descends into this inappropriate relationship with Eddie Murphy (ALSO AWESOME IN THIS MOVIE)'s all done subtly. It's not annoyingly, overly showy.

And this movie is awesome. I love it. Completely underrated as a film.

W.R. said...

Adore her work in this. My favourite touch of hers is how after the first act her voice has deepened, when she sings "Patience." A great way to subtly let the audience know that a significant amount of time has passed.