A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 88 – Hairspray (2007)

Hairspray (2007) – May 27th, 2010

While the years don’t match up, I’m going to just hope that Pleasantville isn’t too far from Baltimore and some time soon after that movie ends, the changes in Baltimore from Hairspray spread out into the suburbs. Wouldn’t that be nice? They could use some more music and dancing in that town anyhow and now that roads actually lead to and from it, Tracy Turnblad and the rest of the Corny Collins show kids could tour through. What? I’ve displayed my crossover imaginings before and this won’t be the last time. I promise.

It’s hard not to come out of this movie feeling upbeat and hopeful, so long as you don’t poke too hard at its premise. Not to be too much of a downer, but while progress has certainly been made when it comes to racism and sizeism, all is not a song and a dance away from a happy ending. Nasty shit still happens because people are still like Velma Von Tussle, convinced of their moral superiority because of how they look. I watch this movie and I think “Yeah! Go Tracy! Get on that stage! Go Inez! Show them you ladies can dance and be awesome and rock out!” and then I think “Shit. People would still give them both crap for presuming to think not just that they’re as good as the other young women on the stage, but that they’re better. Fuck.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if things worked the way they do in the movie? If pointing out that You Can’t Stop the Beat really did prove to people that the tide of change is something to dive into, not build a wall against? I wish it worked like that. And I can’t say the movie is entirely dismissive of the difficulties inherent in its message. It’s just that it’s a positive vibe sort of movie. It wants you to be happy and optimistic. I’m not that optimistic a person, alas. But I’ll try. Because it’s a good movie, and it doesn’t deserve me spewing pessimism all over it. Not when it really does have a great message that I truly like.

Now, this is a remake, but I haven’t seen the original, so I’m not going to be reviewing it from that perspective. I haven’t seen the Broadway production either, so scratch that too. But I am thrilled to know just how much was carried over and how many nods to the original there are. Some cast members kept and moved into new roles (Jerry Stiller, for example) and the closing credits has a number performed by all three actresses who’ve played the lead, Tracy (Nikki Blonsky, Marissa Jaret Winokur and Ricki Lake). Those are great little things that let you know that the people making the movie were paying attention not just to their own production. One reason we watched this tonight is that tonight was the premier of the latest season of So You Think You Can Dance, and this movie was directed and choreographed by one of the judges, Adam Shankman. We hadn’t realized that and were thrilled (the other option was Showgirls, which another of the show’s choreographers is in).

Truth to tell, there are a lot of great things about the movie. Not just the message and the choreography (which I love). But I realize I haven’t talked about the message yet, so let’s do that. Tracy Turnblad, a teenager with a dream of being on a dance show on television, is also heavier than is acceptable for such things. But that doesn’t get her down. She just knows she’s going to make it somehow. With the help of her friend Penny (whose character arc I adore) and some of the African American students Tracy’s met in detention, she dances her way into the good graces of the host of the show, Corny Collins. Before I continue, this movie is full of bizarrely perfect casting. James Marsden as the slick Corny Collins? Who knew, right? But perfect. Amanda Bynes as Penny? Yeah, she’s perfect too. Allison Janey as her uptight churchgoing mother isn’t such a stretch, but I love Allison Janey in everything I’ve seen her in so I don’t care. Anyhow, Tracy gets on the show, which is fantastic, but she also earns the enmity of the show’s lead dancer, Amber, and her mother, Velma, neither of whom want this short fat pro-integration optimist to come crashing their party. So they try to sabotage her, of course. And one of the things they do is to cancel “Negro Day”, a once a month rhythm and blues day, leading to Tracy marching with the host of Negro Day (Motormouth Maybelle, played, again awesomely, by Queen Latifah) and a large group of people she’s met through her friends from detention and Maybelle. A confrontation with the police during the march leads to Tracy hiding out and then sneaking into the Corny Collins show’s climactic Miss Hairspray dance-off, during which the cast becomes integrated and Penny makes out with OMG an African American man! Maybelle’s daughter, Inez, wins Miss Hairspray and Tracy’s mother and father (played by John Travolta and Christopher Walken, respectively and perfectly – yes, perfectly) get on stage and dance too.

Everyone dances. Everyone’s dancing with someone of another size or another race and everyone’s singing about change and Tracy gets the boy she’s had eyes for the whole movie (the show’s male lead, Link, again perfectly played by Zac Efron, who I don’t think I’d ever thought I’d write those words about). Maybelle and Corny are up hosting together and the whole thing says that your size and shape and race shouldn’t keep you from doing and achieving what you want. But not only shouldn’t your differences stop you, they should be loved and appreciated. Not once in the movie is it put forth that Tracy would be a better dancer if she was tall and skinny. She’s amazing just the way she is and Link likes her as she is. Not once does the movie want you to think that the music would really be better if it was whiter. Just the opposite. The whole point of the movie is to embrace the unfamiliar and the different and let your life be richer for it. And it’s set in 1962. It’s 2010. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that?

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

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