It's the holiday season, and you expect to hear music everywhere you go. In restaurants, the supermarket, bookstores, the light hum of carols wafts through the air. But this year, there's a different set of tunes on everyone's lips, and it's making this one of the jollier holiday seasons I can remember. The new James Taylor album of seasonal tunes? Guess again. Sarah McLachlan's compilation of Christmas chestnuts? Not so much. Nope, it's an album that doesn't have any songs about mangers or decking the halls, or snow or Bethlehem. It's the soundtrack to Dreamgirls, and I consider it the unlikely musical choice for Christmas, 2006 .
My friend who accompanied me to the screening where I saw the film is the last guy you'd expect to hear singing. An off-boundaries skier, a big wave surfer, a climber of mountains -- he sat motionless during last year's Sound of Music at the Hollywood bowl as all of us around him mouthed the words along with Maria and the nuns. His most musically oriented moment that comes to mind was watching a stoic recitation of "Crazy" as Willie Nelson crooned at a live performance. I suspect he's never even hummed in the shower or in his car or karaoked, and he seems a little embarrassed when those around him spontaneously break into song in the car or at a party. So imagine my surprise when, at the end of Dreamgirls, he turned to me and, referring to Jennifer Hudson, said, "I wish I could sing like that," and stared off into the night sky, fantasizing. My friend, the mountain man, dreaming of replacing Flo Ballard? Shocking!
A few days later, I held a dinner party at my house, which somehow became a much larger event than I had anticipated. Two of my buddies, and a third gentleman I hadn't met before, sat in the back room, and spent much of the evening discussing the pros and cons of turning "Light in the Piazza" into a feature film. Towards the end of the night, I started to clear away dishes and, apparently inspired by the discussion of musical theater, and not quite wanting to leave yet, one of the guys broke into a spontaneous rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going". Only this time, the words had changed to reflect his displeasure at the idea leaving the party: "And I am telling you, I'm not going. This is the best moussaka I'll ever know. There's no way I can ever go. No, no, no, no way...." And as if on cue, the trio stood, and moving through the living room, to the amusement of all the guests, continued the song until they reached the door. You almost expected a spotlight to shoot from the corner of the room and illuminate their exit.
I wish I could say that I'm immune to the Dreamgirls magic, but as I was preparing for the event, I had to switch off my standard cooking music (Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Patsy Cline) and pop in the soundtrack. You see, since I saw the film, all I can think about is, "Move, move! Move right out of my life! Move, Move!" And like my jock friend, I suddenly transform into a 60s-era Motown vocal group backup singer, swaying in perfect, confident unison with my fellow performers. I then think back to relationships that've gone sour or business dealing that were unpleasant, and all the irritation and annoyance flows away as I command those demons to get lost and haunt me no more. It's liberating and fun and powerful -- it's what the new year is about -- and suddenly 2007 feels like it's gonna rock.
So thanks, Dreamgirls, for being a hot alternative to the annual treacle that usually clutters the ears during this time of year, and thanks for providing an optimistic feeling of great things to come. Thanks, more than anything, for "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" -- which, for anyone who has the holiday blues, is the type of song you can belt at the top of your lungs and feel not so alone. Dreamgirls is the best Christmas album of the year, the best Christmas movie by far, and I am telling you, I'm not listening to anything else, and neither should you.
Getting Reel is a biweekly commentary about movies and the world.