23 July 2007 | dtb
New Musical HAIRSPRAY is Fab, Full-Figured Fun!
My family and I saw the movie version of the Broadway musical adaptation of John Waters' 1988 comedy HAIRSPRAY on its opening weekend. It's unanimous: this HAIRSPRAY is a big, bright, joyful 1960s song-and-dance extravaganza, and we all urge you to run out and see it right this minute! Go ahead, I'll wait right here... :-) My little girl loves music and dancing, but she still tends to like animated films better than live-action films, so when she got into HAIRSPRAY from the start, dancing joyfully in her seat to the Phil Spector-style opening number, "Good Morning, Baltimore," I knew this movie was truly something special. Lest you think this HAIRSPRAY has forgotten its roots, the opening number also features Waters in a hilarious cameo as a flasher. Also, watch for Ricki Lake, the original HAIRSPRAY's original Tracy, as a talent agent in the climactic "Miss Hairspray" sequence, as well as Jerry Stiller, Tracy's dad in the original, playing The Hefty Hideaway's head honcho. HAIRSPRAY is the kind of movie musical that GREASE should have been back in the 1970s (yes, it was a huge box-office hit, but I always thought it had a cold, calculating air to it, plus it was so obvious that the teenage characters were being played by stars pushing 30), making it all the more appropriate that John Travolta should carry on the Divine tradition of a man playing mama Edna Turnblad in drag, without *being* a drag. Travolta is great fun to watch, a delightful surprise with his sensitive performance (even if his Baltimore accent is a little off but maybe that's just because Baltimore is played by Toronto :-)) as insecure caterpillar-turned-butterfly Edna; this is no cheap, brassy drag-queen turn. The very convincing fat F/X makeup and prosthetics (Edna may be overweight, but she's got womanly curves in all the right places) don't get in the way of fleet-footed Travolta's fabulous dancing. Adorable newcomer Nikki Blonsky lights up the screen in all her scenes as Tracy Turnblad, the perky dynamo who won't let her plus-size body or the sneers of Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) and the other so-called cool kids keep her from dancing her way onto Baltimore's American BANDSTAND manque, THE CORNY COLLINS SHOW. Tracy and her shy bud Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) become socially aware as they befriend the black kids from the "wrong" side of town, fighting against bigoted station manager and stage mother Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer, having a blast slinking around making trouble) to integrate the show instead of relegating their new friends to the program's monthly "Negro Day." The plot's serious aspects, with its foreshadowing of the era's more sobering issues, are woven deftly into the movie's high spirits. The jubilant dance numbers, Marc Shaiman's catchy music and Scott Wittman's snappy lyrics are performed with bubbly abandon by each and every cast member. As the Dick Clark-ish Corny Collins, James Marsden proves that Hugh Jackman isn't the only X-Man with range and musical talent. I've never watched HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, but it's easy to see why Zac Efron, winning Tracy's heart as Link Larkin, has won audiences' hearts, too. Efron is alluring enough to make teenage girls squeal while coming across as wholesome enough not to panic parents, plus he doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. Indeed, there were Zac Efron fans in our theater who shrieked and giggled with joy every time he appeared on screen! Christopher Walken reminds us that before he was an eccentric Oscar-winning character actor, he was a hell of a dancer. As Tracy's supportive joke-shop proprietor dad, Walken has winsome chemistry with Travolta in their duet, "You're Timeless to Me." (You haven't lived until you've seen Walken and Travolta make like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers!) The funny, endearing Bynes is better served here than she's been in her previous movies; maybe she should seek out more ensemble pieces like this one. Bynes also has terrific chemistry with Elijah Kelley as Seaweed, who combines Denzel Washington's playful side with James Brown's moves; I'd love to see Kelley get even bigger and better roles. As Seaweed's mom, Motormouth Maybelle, Queen Latifah is saintly yet sassy, gliding effortlessly between belting out "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful" and bringing tears to my eyes with her soulful ballad "I Know Where I've Been" during the protest march. BTW, Bynes isn't the only Nickelodeon alumnus in HAIRSPRAY; director and choreographer Adam Shankman also choreographed ROUNDHOUSE, one of our favorite Nick shows from the early 1990s. Leslie Dixon adapted Waters' original screenplay, keeping the sly, subversive elements while also keeping things bouncy and upbeat. HAIRSPRAY is a great big sunny summer movie that'll put a smile on your face, a song on your lips, and a shimmy in your shake!