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Movie Review: Hairspray

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In the vast landscape of the feature film, Hairspray really doesn't have much of a reason for being. It is a movie version of a Broadway version of a movie, sort of the same path that The Producers took when the musical version hit screens back in 2005.

Anyway, back to the reason for being. Well, it does not offer anything new storywise, nor does it bring anything new to the musical movie. So, why should anyone go see it? The answer is simple — it is an absolute blast of upbeat energy. Even if you are not a fan of musicals, and I am not their biggest champion, I dare you not to have a stupid smile plastered on your face while you tap your toes to the beat. I swear to you that it is quite infectious.

Even if you have not seen the 1988 John Waters film, or the musical, like me, you are likely already privy to what the story entails. It involves a rotund ball of energy, Tracy Turnblad (played by the inhumanly energetic and charismatic Nikki Blonsky), whose absolute bestest dream is to be a dancer on the Corny Collins Show, a local Baltimore-based teen dancing show not unlike American Bandstand. Each day, Tracy and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) count down the minutes at school while attempting to stay awake, so that when that final bell rings they can rush home to watch the popular show, much to the chagrin of their parents.

One day, she gets a shot to try out for the show. Of course, Tracy's size proves to be a detriment, and she is laughed off the set. Then, back at school, she gets detention for cutting class (you know, so she could go to the tryout). When she arrives at that fated room, she is greeted by class full of black kids (you know, in these unenlightened days the black kids were a bad influence, as evidenced by their only time on the Corny Collins Show being the once a month Negro Day headed up by Queen Latifah). Her likable energy allows her to fit right in and learn some new dance moves, which she in turn takes to the studio (kinda like Elvis). She catches the eye of Corny and is put on the show.

Now that she is on the show, Tracy finds herself at the heart of the integration movement, beginning with the whitewashed dance show. Like I said, it does not offer anything new by way of the story, the fight for civil rights, the desire to dance, the need to be accepted for who you are, but it has so much energy. Hairspray is so bright, innocent, and happy, that it is nearly impossible not to get sucked in. Even if you recognize the story, where it is going, and how it will end, you will still float along as if it was the first time that you'd seen it.

In essence, the movie is pure pop. Musicals are not known for their basis in the real world, they are true fantasies. How else would you be able to explain why everyone knows the words and the dance moves? Well, they don't actually, but no matter. It is merely a conceit that you have to accept if you expect to get any enjoyment out of the genre. With that out of the way, you need to take a look at the songs contained within, and the songs here are fun. Many of them are big showstopping numbers that worm their way into your head and transport you to another, more innocent time. The music and delivery perfectly evokes a '60s fantasy world, an innocent time seen through innocent eyes with a desire to do what is right, a desire that comes as naturally as breathing to these kids.

The cast is filled with recognizable faces and up and coming talent. The most notable cast member would have to be John Travolta if, for nothing else, the fact that he is all bundled up in a fat suit and a dress. This has been a point of contention for some groups considering Travolta's membership in the Church of Scientology, and their non-acceptance of gay lifestyles. I don't really have an opinion on that, but I am willing to give my opinion on his performance. He is not a convincing woman — you can see Travolta underneath all of that latex; however he does bring a sweet girliness to it as a woman trying to come to grips with herself.

Then there is the Saturday Night Fever dancing, with the slight nod to Pulp Fiction's Vincent Vega. The humor is increased by having him paired with Christopher Walken in the best display of dancing, the only way Walken can, since the "Weapon of Choice" music video. They are an unlikely couple, but they make it work. The other major adult role is filled by Michelle Pfeiffer, the villainous Velma Von Tussle. She may be manipulative, backwards thinking, and downright evil, but she is still looking good. Finally, there is James Marsden, Cyclops with a bleached smile, playing ringleader to the dancing kids as the aptly named Corny Collins.

The real stars are the kids. The kids are led by Nikki Blonsky, in her first role, and she makes the most of it. She has a strong voice, can dance well, and has such an exuberant screen presence that she really carries the film. Amanda Bynes is the adorable best friend who seems to be a perpetual state of amazement, and is never far away from a lollipop. On the other side of the gender barrier, you have the likes of Zac Efron and Elijah Kelly. Efron is an up and comer hot from High School Musical; here he plays Link Larkin, the dance show's heartthrob and the object of Tracy's affections. Elijah Kelly is fantastic as Seaweed, son of Maybelle (Queen Latifah) and a fantastic dancer who shares his moves with Tracy while falling for Penny.

Bottom line. You know, this is not typically the sort of movie that is at the top of my list. That does not preclude me from enjoying this. I think that if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't have a pulse. It is just so sunny in its disposition, I guarantee that you will smile. Despite not bringing anything new to the table, everything it does, it does right.


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  • Sean Paul Mahoney

    Chris, I agree to some extent. It’s a fun frothy film but is it original? No. I actually threw in my copy of the original dvd and found it waaay superior.
    Travolta blows but Michelle and the rest of the cast is amazing!

  • Ty

    That’s the thing, problem is, the original movie came out in 1988, less than twenty years ago.

    This movie is properly labeled, “TOO SOON!!!!”

  • Ty,
    What is your opinion last year’s Best Picture winner, The Departed? It is a remake of Infernal Affairs from 2002. Or how about The Wizard of Oz? The 1933 classic follows the 1925 feature (with Oliver Hardy). Remakes have been apart of movies as long as there have been movies.

    Also think about this, how many more people now will be interested in seeing the 1988 original now that they have seen this? probably a good number, I know I am. It’s not like it was a blockbuster of any caliber. I didn’t crack $7 mil at the box office.

  • This is one of those movies that’s just plain fun. I thought Travolta was a bit weak in his role. I heard one critic describe “Hairspray” as “Grease” for this generation. That seems very appropriate.

  • hugz

    hairspray was the bestest film i have ever seen its fantasitic xxx