Michael Slezak
January 02, 2007 AT 04:00 PM EST

By now, every person with even a passing interest in pop culture knows former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson (left) has won almost universal critical raves for her role as Effie in the current Oscar-contender, Dreamgirls. So deafening has the buzz about Hudson been, in fact, that there’s been little discussion of whether or not her fellow Golden Globe nominee, chart-topping superstar Beyoncé Knowles (right), succeeds in her portrayal of Effie’s rival, Deena. I decided to scour recent newspaper reviews of the hit musical with only one question in mind: Can Beyoncé act? Here’s what the critics had to say:Jack Matthews, New York Daily News: “Knowles has her own show-stopper — a new, last-act Henry Krieger song called ‘Listen’ — and it is pretty much guaranteed to get the movie audience on its feet.”A.O. Scott, New York Times: “[The film] springs to life…when Ms. Hudson lays claim to ‘And I Am Telling You,’ and when Ms. Knowles, late in the movie, lets loose in a recording booth on ‘Listen,’ one of a handful of new songs written for the film. Until that point her character, Deena, has been something of an enigma and, for Curtis, the passive vessel of his ambitions. Ms. Knowles’s performance has been static and detached. In her limited work in movies she has never seemed comfortable with acting, shying away from any emotional display that might compromise her steely, hieratic dignity. But when she sings, she is capable of warmth, vulnerability, even ferocity, all of which she demonstrates in ‘Listen.'”Lou Lumenick, New York Post: “Beyoncé isn’t much more than adequate in the thinly written character of Deena, who is required to do little but look wide-eyed and sexy. A subplot about Curtis’s plans to star her in a Cleopatra movie is positively deadly. Deena does get a new number – ‘Listen’ – and it’s Beyoncé’s big moment, even if she ends up breaking character to deliver it.”Claudia Puig, USA Today: “The weakest link is the stunning Knowles. The camera clearly loves her, and her singing is not in contention, but as an actress, she has a vapid quality. Despite the array of dazzling fashion ensembles, and the effort to channel Diana Ross, her performance remains one-note, particularly in contrast to Hudson’s nuanced portrayal.”addCredit(“Dreamgirls: David James”)

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “The beautiful Knowles (who looks smashing in massive ’60s hair and glitter kitsch) is a better actress when she’s singing; her Deena lacks nuance in the dialogue scenes, but comes to life when the music plays. She’s a standout in ‘Listen,’ a ballad (newly written for the film) aimed at her complex feelings toward the manager, Curtis, who sees her as a commodity. Belting out the lyric ‘I found the voice you think you gave to me,’ she’s become a small tower of strength.”William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “The movie is a showcase for Golden Globe nominees Knowles, who deftly makes the transition from timid backup-singer to spoiled diva.”Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald: “There is also Knowles, who barely gets by on her limited acting skills, but is given her own showstopping number, ‘Listen,’ which was not part of the stage version but gives the pop singer her own indelible moment in a movie in which she otherwise tends to fade into the background.”Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Knowles is surely the loveliest creature in the movies, Jessica Rabbit come to life. And while she mesmerizes while singing ‘Listen,’ her declaration of independence from Curtis (‘I followed the voice you gave me, but now I gotta find my own’), only in this sequence is she anything more than decorative. Someone, please sit her down with a stack of Judy Garland DVDs and show her that acting is just like singing, you have to feel the words.”James Verniere, Boston Herald: “Knowles is not upstaged entirely by Hudson and has her own spotlight moment belting out the tune ‘Listen.'”Wesley Morris, Boston Globe: “Knowles isn’t an embarrassment. She even happens to be a more imaginative singer than Hudson. If she can’t out-belt her costar, she slyly out-interprets her in their argumentative duets. But mostly she’s a sweet nonentity. Her performance as a criminally aggrieved girlfriend in her recent ‘Ring the Alarm’ video was more convincing.”

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