Review: Hairspray (2007)

Hairspray

Hairspray

Rating



Director

Adam Shankman

Screenplay

Leslie Dixon (1988 Screenplay: John Waters; Musical: Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan

Length

117 min.

Starring

Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelley, John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Allison Janney, Taylor Parks, Jayne Eastwood, Paul Dooley, Jerry Stiller

MPAA Rating

PG (for language, some suggestive content and momentary teen smoking)

Buy/Rent Movie

Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

Equal rights in the 1960s finds itself dressed up and put to music in the big screen adaptation of the Broadway stage musical based on the John Waters film Hairspray.

Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is every bit the typical teenager growing up during the dance show craze of the 1960s. The Corny Collins Show is the highlight of her day and she goes out of her way to dress and wear her hair in the latest styles as seen on the show. Some parents, including those of her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes), think the entire concept is born of the devil, but that doesn’t stop the beat.

Hairspray follows Tracy as she shakes her plus-sized toosh on the dance floor, hoping to become the newest member of The Corny Collins Show, much to the chagrin of Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), the show’s style maven. After Tracy makes the show, she is instantly thrust into a contest to become Miss Hairspray, a title Velma desperately wants for her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow).

When the show eliminates the once-a-week black dance section of the program, Tracy shows her support, hoping to eliminate segregation from the airwaves, an act that would put the desegregation movement on the fast track.

The original 1988 John Waters version was a huge underground hit, making a star out of Ricki Lake. Nearly 20 years later, as the hit Broadway tuner makes its requisite big screen adaptation, Blonsky makes a similar splash delivering an endearing, charismatic performance that puts the rest of the cast to shame. Although she is undoubtedly the star of the show, there are plenty of other entertaining performances.

There isn’t a poor performance among the younger cast members. Elijah Kelly and Taylor Parks are smashing in their big screen breakthroughs. Bynes delivers her best performance as the starstruck girl ready to strike out against segregation after falling in love with Kelly’s character Seaweed. Zac Efron and Brittany Snow fit perfectly into their vain characters, Efron playing the surprisingly progressive Link Larkin and Snow taking on the shallow, debutante Amber.

Pfeiffer leads the charge among the adult cast members with her outlandishly vindictive mother. She sparkles in every scene, allowing the audience to love and despise her equally. James Marsden is delightfully hammy as show host Corny Collins. Queen Latifah brings her matronly style from Chicago to bear on Motormouth Maybelle, yet manages to successfully differentiate herself from her earlier performance. Allison Janney has few scenes, but she nails every one as Penny’s mother Prudy.

Some of the actors bomb in their respective rolls. Christopher Walken seems out of his element as he builds on his hip cachet in a performance that lacks significant depth. However, the most egregious act in the film is John Travolta who hams his way in drag as Tracy’s mother Edna. Wearing a well designed fat suit doesn’t help Travolta, who attempts to fit into a part designed originally for Divine in the original film and meant to be performed like a man in drag. Harvey Fierstein also managed the part well in his Broadway performance, thanks to his previous drag experience. Travolta isn’t physically right for the part and doesn’t have the gravelly voice and flamboyance the role demands.

The story looks at desegregation with rose-colored glasses, but exhibits such entertaining humor, music and dancing that you can almost forgive some of its halcyon views. When I initially saw the preview, I was left completely underwhelmed. The highlighted song and the exaggerated nature looked like it was destined to be another musical disappointment. However, when the film is fully executed, full songs put to their proper scenes and all the gleeful humor injected, Hairspray managed to evoke a carefree excitement that has been missing from big screen musicals for some time.

Review Written

February 1, 2008

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