Hairspray is an updated compilation of the John Waters classically campy film and the award winning Broadway musical (both of the same name). And while I very much liked the original (at least what I can recall of it), I had my reservations about the remake. That’s because remakes usually suck. Thankfully, from the moment the movie opened those fears were laid to rest.
The movie takes place in a segregated Baltimore in the 1960’s. It gets things moving with an upbeat song and dance number performed by our, oh so chunky heroine, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky). She’s a perky teenager with dreams of dancing on The Corny Collin’s Dance Show, hosted by none other than Corny Collins (James Marsden, “X-Men 3 – The Last Stand”). She’s got a few things going against her though — she’s fat; her mother Edna (John Travolta, “Wild Hogs”) has a major hang-up about her own weight and doesn’t want her daughter ridiculed; and there’s a ruthless and conniving producer Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer, “I Could Never Be Your Woman”) standing in her way.
Obstacles be damned though. Tracy futilely tries out for the show anyway. Aside from being made fun of by the current crop of dancers, of which Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow, “The Pacifier”) leads, she gets herself detention for skipping class. Who knew detention could be so worthwhile, as while she is there, she copies the dance styles of Seaweed J. Stubbs (Elijah Kelley) and other black classmates. Armed with new found confidence and a helping hand from Link Larkin (Zac Efron, “High School Musical”), she manages to get noticed and added to the dancer roster. From her new vantage point she looks to enact change.
I’ll agree that on the surface Hairspray can appear to just be a whimsical teenage musical, but underneath I can assure you, it is actually a much deeper feature. It’s really about triumph over adversity. It’s about destroying ill-founded mores. Tracy, breaks down the stigma that fat folks can’t be beautiful (aren’t we all sexy things beneath the skin?). She also manages to bust through the walls her mother has erected — essentially freeing her from her weight induced prison. Later in the movie, she stands along side Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah, “Last Holiday”) to call for racial equality and seamless integration on the dance show.
Aside from some very entertaining song and dance routines the best part of the movie is the casting. John Travolta in drag was the most intriguing. I’m not entirely sure what made the director, Adam Shankman, decide on Travolta, but the decision was brilliant. He’s perfect for the part and he is clearly having the time of his life doing it. Placing a complete unknown in the lead part was another interesting decision that works flawlessly. Nikki Blonsky carries herself like a seasoned professional. It was also great to see Christopher Walken (“Wedding Crashers”) — 90% of what he touches is gold.
The only detracting point of the movie is there are a few scenes that seemed out of place and slowed the flow of the movie to a molasses flow. Most notably, the lovey-dovey number between Tracy’s parents was a tad grating. Also, the final act, while entertaining, was drawn out ten minutes too long. Basically, I’m saying a 110+ minute movie shouldn’t have hit the 90 minute mark.
I’m also instructing all the guys being asked to see Hairspray to suck it up. Yeah, you won’t win any cool points with your drinking buddies if they find out you’ve gone to see it, but what you’ll win from your significant other you can’t put a value on. Trust me, she’ll (or he’ll) love you long time for the sacrifice. Besides, I actually believe you’ll come out of the theaters a happier person.