A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Hairspray (2007 musical)

May 27, 2010

Hairspray (2007 musical)

“People who are different? Their time is coming!” So declares Tracy Turnblad- the heroine of today’s return to the exciting fantasy Baltimore of John Waters. Just like Crybaby this is a musical tale of misfits finding their place in the world. We don’t own the original Hairspray movie (although I can tell you we certainly will!) Instead today we review the 2007 movie of the Broadway musical based on the movie. Much from the original movie has changed (gone is the climactic set-piece about the bomb that has been planted in the hairdo of Tracy’s rival) but the core premise of the improbable meteoric rise to stardom of an overweight but infectiously upbeat girl remains. In the alternate Baltimore of John Waters you can’t keep a great girl like Tracy down.

This hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad – a Baltimore teenager at the start of the sixties who watches the Corny Collins dance program every day on local daytime television and does nothing else. Naturally she finds her way onto the program, falls in love with the lead dancer and heartthrob Link, and through a series of well meaning adventures brings about a confrontation on the program with the underhanded and racist producer Velma. Velma wants to keep the show pure and white. Tracy feels that it’s unfair not to have black people dancing in an integrated show. It all leads to chaos at the climactic live broadcast of the Miss Teenage Hairspray dance competition. And of course along the way there are a ton of great musical numbers and big dance scenes.

The biggest difference between this musical and the original movie is in the tone. In 1988 John Waters was still doing what he enjoys doing most- trying to get a rise out of people by filming outrageous things and passing them off as normal. In the original movie (as I remember it at least – this could change when we get to our dedicated review of it) the interracial couples and integration felt like it was put in the movie to shock you. In this movie it is seen as inevitable, like the rising of the tide. Has public perception of integration changed so much in the intervening twenty years? I’m not sure that it has. Certainly it doesn’t appear to to me, but I live in a fairly isolated bubble of extreme liberalism and always have. Maybe attitudes have changed.

I will say that when I first watched this movie I was extremely moved by the “I Know Where I’ve Been” number with its civil rights overtones. Queen Latifah’s performance never fails to make me tear up. But I couldn’t help feeling like this was too easy a thing to do now. Is there any controversy to integration and civil rights any more? I mean, we live in a United States with a black president now. Surely we already live in a colorblind society and there’s less power to this kind of scene because of it. But then again, just this past week Rand Paul, a Republican Senate candidate from Kentucky, has said some dumb things about civil rights, and there’s the whole hullabaloo in Arizona regarding immigrants there which is turning into a race issue as well. So perhaps from my ivory tower I can delude myself into believing that the race problem has been resolved, when clearly it has not. We live in the future, yes, but all is not yet as it should be. So this movie IS still relevant today.

Let’s talk casting. This movie has a brilliant group of performers embodying the people of Baltimore. Christopher Walken gets a chance to show off his dance movies and is also wonderfully cheesy as Tracy’s joke-store-operating father. (His patented oddly paced delivery works well with his character.) Queen Latifah, although her part is fairly small as Motormouth Maybelle, the host of “Negro Day” the once-a-month all colored dance segment on the Corny Collins show, provides a lot of the heart and (if you’ll forgive the pun) soul of the movie. Michelle Pfeiffer makes a fantastic nefarious evil-doer (as seen in Stardust as well.) James Marsden continues to surprise me. As Corny Collins here he gets to sing, dance and smarm (although I fear that he may be typecast as the clean-cut all-American guy.) Teen appeal is provided by High School Musical’s Zac Efron and Amanda Bynes. Of course Nikki Blonsky brings so much fun to the movie as the irrepressible Tracy that it’s infectious.

The one casting choice I was most concerned about when I first began to hear about the film adaptation was that of John Travolta as Tracy’s mother Edna. I mean, yes we all know that John can sing and dance, but he’s taking the role away from the drag queens who created it. In the original film it was of course John Waters’ favorite transvestite Divine in the role, and then the original Broadway stage cast had the legendary Harvey Fierstein take over. It seemed crude to have a big-name Hollywood star camping it up in the place of a dedicated transvestite. Still, I will admit that Travolta does a good job with the part, and seems to be having fun doing it. I don’t begrudge him the role… I would think anybody would enjoy having it. He even lampoons his own celebrity- aping one of his Pulp Fiction dance moves during the closing number.

I enjoy this movie for a number of reasons. It’s got a fantastic soundtrack (which lives on my iPod and is frequently listened to when I need a lift.) It’s got amazing big Broadway dance numbers (choreographed and directed as my Wife is no doubt pointing out in her review by So You Think You Can Dance’s Adam Shankman.) The casting is first rate and the joy of the movie is undeniable. And it has a nice social message which shouldn’t be relevant in our new enlightened age but sadly still is. Most of all it’s just fun to watch.

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May 27, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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