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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 35.48%
Average: 3.23%
Pretty Bad: 11.29%
Total Crap: 3.23%

6 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Hairspray (2007)
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by Erik Childress

"Worthy Of More Stars Than Shankman’s Entire Directorial Resume"
4 stars

John Waters’ Hairspray was a turnabout in his career; a most accessible, kitschy ‘60s pastiche that run counter to films featuring Odor-ama, chicken sex and masticated dog feces. It was also so “PG” that Waters did little but sit back and let the camera roll like a bad rock-n’-roll teen film from the decade where kids would dance and a plot would find them later. While turned into a very successful Tony-award winning musical, the prospect of handing the reins over to one of the spottiest screenwriters working today (Leslie Dixon) and a director whose name is among the first mentioned in conversations about the mayors of Hacktown (Adam Shankman), is enough to give anyone with pause about melodic storytelling a reason to seek out a vaccine. Let no one say that preconceptions can ruin a movie experience though because Hairspray arrives as a big, bundle of fun, infectious to the core and accomplishes more often than not what the best musicals are prone to do.

In 1962 Baltimore the most popular staple of the cultural landscape is The Corny Collins Show that is part American Bandstand and part Mickey Mouse Club for its ability to make its featured stars icons of the community. Wanting to be a part like no other is Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), a plump butterball of life who smiles through an opening tribute to her hometown that will remind many of Stan Marsh’s hilarious stroll to begin the South Park feature (which remains the greatest of all modern day musicals.) When a regular is off on a not-so-long 9-month hiatus, auditions are opened and Tracy couldn’t be more excited even if her launderette mother, Edna (John Travolta, yes, John Travolta), isn’t exactly keen to the whole living-your-dream scenario. Her father, Wilbur (Christopher Walken), a novelty salesman is a little more whimsical about his daughter’s happiness and encourages her to go for it.

Tracy is not exactly welcomed into her audition by station manager, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), a former beauty queen paving the way for her daughter, Amber (Brittany Snow) to take the crown of Miss Hairspray, the dance show’s chief product. Corny Collins himself (James Marsden) sees things differently for his show though and would rather roll with the changes than allow further suppression like the singular “Negro Day” they have each month hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). Tracy becomes an instant sensation, attracting the eye of the show’s heartthrob (and her longtime crush), Link Larkin (High School Musical’s Zak Efron) and the respect of Maybelle’s son, Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), who has become smitten with her best friend, Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes). Tracy’s newfound friends from the other side of the tracks though, faced with the resistance to integration on the show, leap towards her affirmation that if they “can’t dance, they may as well march.”

Waters’ original screenplay was as simple as that – the outcasts getting a chance over the stiff and stuck-up whiteys. While a fault of the 1988 film, it becomes an attribute of the musical version which from scene one is a buoyant and spirited blanket of optimism personified by its lead character. Comparing the work of newcomer Nikki Blonsky to (then) newcomer Ricki Lake is like setting the sweetest apple from the largest redwood next to a rotten orange with a smiley face drawn on it. Spending time watching Blonsky, and any prejudicial notions about attractiveness or big-being-beautiful wash away with each smack of her bottom. She has personality to boot and its genuine where Lake appeared to just be smiling for the camera because her version of Tracy thought that’s what we wanted. Blonsky is the literal anti-Jennifer Hudson, talented beyond just great pipes and a scowl that served as attitude and sass. Her opening number distracts a bit as the soundtrack cranks up to levels that offer no mistaking that lip synching is an integral part of the performance, but once the noise settles into an acceptable level, her wide-eyed version of “I Can Hear the Bells” dedicated to a future with Link will de-sour the most stubborn of pusses.

Enjoying musicals, particularly those without a darker edge, will always be associated with puss activities. And when the songs suck with the suction of gooey longing for better life and unrequited love there’s a part of the male brain that rings the checkout bell and never looks back. Marc Shaiman, a well-renown composer who worked on the South Park film and wrote a few songs for their Team America: World Police as well, is responsible (along with Scott Wittman) for crafting the music and lyrics for the stage production and unlike recent adaptations of Rent and Dreamgirls, they are songs that you can actually find yourself wanting to remember after you leave the show. These are fun songs, period-appropriate songs with melodies that can either glide through clouds or arouse your clapping to keep the beat. Only Latifah’s big “meaningful” number, “I Know Where I’ve Been” disrupts the flow as it feels stashed in so the creators didn’t appear that they were flippantly glossing over an issue as monumental as the Civil Rights Movement. As good as the song might be, it’s such a sullen, overbearing sequence that it feels like a Spike Lee joint and almost makes us feel bad for enjoying the fluffier, funny moments surrounding it. All such nagging is forgotten (even if that’s disingenuous) with spirit-lifting numbers like “Without Love” and one of the great closing act songs since the film version of Grease, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” with all the characters taking center stage and those we like finding happiness in the end.

It will amuse some to see the stars of Grease and Grease 2 share the same cinema space; the star of the iconic one bulked up in a fat suit while the newcomer of the cult disaster looking as beautiful as ever. But back to that fat suit for a second. In concept, the continuation of notorious drag queen Divine’s legacy who originated the role of Edna and died shortly after the film’s release is a nice tribute and somewhat chuckle-worthy to have other men put on the dress. In reality it’s also kind of stupid. So let’s not immediately rush to judgment and scorn Travolta for donning the duds and playing it straight. As a woman. So to speak. The fat makeup doesn’t do the best of jobs in concealing Travolta in the role the way Rick Baker accomplishes with Eddie Murphy in his sleep. So there’s an immediate distraction and a warming up period involved. But since its also meant as a joke and not plunging for Gilbert Grape poignancy, we settle into it and await the moment Travolta will get to bust out and have some real fun. Walken goes to great lengths to ease our misgivings and their scenes together aren’t just priceless, but do manage to squeeze out a poignancy in their relationship. It may result from the futile distraction of a Pfeiffer seduction, but we are rewarded with two actors (known for their trained dancing hobbies) getting a chance to strut their selfs and flaunt their love of acting, hoofing and theatrics in a wonderful duet that we would have felt cheated had it not been included. Travolta may hit the Mr. Ed phonetics a little hard on the “Wilbur”’s but watching him join in the finale will be as crowd-pleasing a moment as you may see all year.

And they aren’t the only ones having all the fun. James Marsden hits all the right comic beats as the host with a vision for change and x-ray vision for the hypocrisy of the present. Best of all the supporting players though is Amanda Bynes, who doesn’t get much in the way of musical epiphany, but is perfect in her suppressed exuberance in wanting to join in on it all. Bynes is a wonderful comedic presence and I hope people will take note of her attention to reaction. Coupled with Blonsky and a game cast of all-stars, Shankman has successfully brought to life what I didn’t think was possible. It’s easy to insinuate that he got out of the way and let the material sell itself, but as proven with Susan Stroman’s point-and-shoot indifference to the cinematic re-adaptation of The Producers, its as inadvisable as Baz Luhrmanning us to death with Krunk-style editing that sucks the joy out of each performance. As a choreographer, Shankman clearly wants his moves to be experienced by the audience and uses just enough cuts and the right amount of swivel to allow that joy to shine through; something that can hardly be said of his dialogue-motivated projects which include The Wedding Planner, A Walk to Remember, The Pacifier, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and one of the worst comedies ever made, Bringing Down the House, the Steve Martin/Queen Latifah vehicle which was more offensive in its view of race relations than anything that went down in the ‘60s. Hairspray may split those in the pleasantly-plump community with frequent jokes about food intake (Wouldn’t it have been great to hear Walken resurrect his “fat hog” talk show host from SNL?) but for those clamoring for an otherwise inoffensive and exuberantly pleasant movie experience in another year full of disappointment, this is just the cure.

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originally posted: 07/20/07 14:00:00
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User Comments

11/19/12 Meredith B Fantastic cast!! 5 stars
7/21/11 art Has it's ups and downs, and Amanda Bynes is pRICELESS,as sweet penny pingleton. 3 stars
12/06/08 Shaun Wallner Well made. 5 stars
10/20/08 Monster A Go-Go This ain't the orig. Ricki Lake IS Tracy Turnblad--the new kid seemed fake. Pfeifer rocked 2 stars
7/12/08 AnnieG Fun and sweet, positive and engaging. A movie worth owning and watching again. 5 stars
12/04/07 Tiffany Losco I bought it on dvd, It is so awesome. Love John travolta as a fat women 5 stars
10/29/07 Mike R. all the characters were awesome-you can't stop the beat!!!! 5 stars
10/24/07 William Goss Only Travolta holds back otherwise brisk, energetic musical. 4 stars
10/16/07 Beau very entertaining raised some laughs, funny characters, 'im tryna orn (iron) here' lol 4 stars
8/28/07 bill trollip wonderful entertaiment 5 stars
8/08/07 lozzy it was the best film ive ever watched!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!! !!!! so did my mum 5 stars
8/06/07 Charli It Was Wic Wic Wicked! Lol! Couldn't Stop Dacing! 5 stars
7/31/07 Brian Awesome movie! Travolta's less campy Edna and other differences make it fresh and new. 5 stars
7/27/07 Raymond Marble watch the original,then when you know this remake does infact suck,kill yourself 1 stars
7/26/07 Shelby I am in love with movie... up until the night I saw it I was watch clips of it on Youtube!! 5 stars
7/26/07 Carly I love this movie, after I saw it ( the first day it came out) I went to buy the soundtrack 5 stars
7/25/07 Chloe I thought it was SOO good. They did a wonderful job =D 5 stars
7/25/07 Ben Smith It was fantastic. Travolta wasn't as campy as I would have liked, but still so much fun. 5 stars
7/24/07 Tiffany Losco awesome, cute, funny, good singing 5 stars
7/24/07 Kristine Phipany Excellent movie - except for Bynes who completely misses the mark! 4 stars
7/24/07 Lois uplifgting summer fun. Couldn't help dancing in my seat! 5 stars
7/22/07 Dennis pizzo WHAT HAPPENED! A NEW ENDING! NO ARREST! 3 stars
7/22/07 Ron Douglas Overall a good film except for Travolta. Should played the part full of camp as written. 4 stars
7/21/07 Anna Too fun and corny NOT to like! I laughed every minute! 5 stars
7/21/07 Gabby This review is no surprise from someone who works for a grinch who has no heart. 5 stars
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  20-Jul-2007 (PG)
  DVD: 20-Nov-2007



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