1 August 2007 | pyrocitor
Exuberant and incessantly enjoyable
Following a slew of other such stage musicals turned movies, one might expect Hairspray to have simply jumped on the cinematic bandwagon, and have little to offer, save being 'that new movie musical'. However, despite the number of stage musical adaptations of late, the quality of the productions is by no means receding, and if anything, increasing, as Hairspray proves one of the most shamelessly jubilant and infectiously enthusiastic efforts to date.
Unlike many other movie musicals, whose song and dance numbers more often than not seem stiff and forced, Hairspray's crackle with kinetic vitality and genuine life. The choreography is consistently superb, and director Adam Shankman's past experience in the field really shows - the innovative dance moves certainly scream of the sixties. And while the plot may stumble and come across as a bit jerky at times, Shankman keeps the pacing and energy so consistently on overdrive such complaints seem trivial compared to the sheer ballistic exuberance on display. For a film so shamelessly fun as this, the occasional imbalance of plot or lapse of logic seem only natural, and are easily forgivable when there is so much else to appreciate going on.
Apart from the unquestionably impressive song and dance numbers, the film also proves a rousing success in capturing the look and feel of the sixties in a particularly vibrant fashion. From the candy coloured costumes to the massive hairdos, the film gives the impression of immersing the viewer in a Technicolor throwback of forty years. But as well as visually, the film also thrives on interpreting some of the most valid social issues of the decade, including racism, and other such prejudices against the social norm in a particularly cheerful and uplifting way, making Hairspray one of the most morally sound musicals to grace the screen in quite some time. Such an unflinchingly feel good film might be the sort to stir up contempt in some of its more jaded viewers, but Hairspray always seems so brightly genuine that it avoids syrupy cliché, culminating in a satisfyingly touching film.
The universally spectacular ensemble cast each boast both wonderful performances and impressive singing voices, really bringing the film to life with particular flair and style. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky makes for a boisterous and instantly likable lead as the spunky Tracy Turnblad, infusing the film with a quirky charm and energy right from the start. One has to give John Travolta credit for playing his part straight, instead of coasting by on the shock humour generated by seeing the iconic star stuffed into a fat suit and drag, and he succeeds in instilling Edna with a surprisingly touching streak - it's just a shame, given his history, that his singing and dancing are disappointingly not up to par with the rest of the cast.
Genre veteran Christopher Walken proves his effortless talent is not dampened by age, dancing and singing better than most half his age, and carrying the film's most touching scene (with his character professing his love to his wife, Travolta) with ease. Michelle Pfieffer aces her vindictive television producer role to icy perfection, and James Marsden is perfectly cast as cheery game host Corny Collins. Teen heartthrob Zac Efron does what he does best here, without doubt winning new legions of screaming female fans in the process, and Amanda Bynes is a surprisingly strong and endearing presence as Tracy's best friend. Elijah Kelly gives a charming performance as well as proving hands down to be the best dancer in the cast, and Queen Latifa also demonstrates dramatic skill seldom demonstrated before, instilling the film's most serious scene, a solemn protest for integration rights, with quiet dignity. It is a joy to see so many talented actors collaborate to such tremendously enjoyable effect.
Apart from those who generally turn their noses up at the gleeful mayhem of movie musicals, it is difficult to imagine watching Hairspray without a heartfelt smile plastered across one's face. The film is too genuinely wholesome and outright entertaining to generate much contempt, and even though the plot may stumble on occasion, the film whips by at such a steady clip, fueled by universally superb singing and performances by the cast that it is near impossible to avoid being caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of the production. Expect to hear impromptu renditions of many of the songs over the course of the next year or so, and don't be at all surprised to find yourself joining in - it seems only natural for a film as downright enjoyable as this.