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Hairspray is like a cinematic version of Disneyland. Walt Disney dubbed his theme park the “Happiest Place on Earth” and Hairspray has to be the happiest film of the past 20 years, even with its march against segregation led by a blonde haired Queen Latifah and its rallying cries against racism and size-ism. It’s bubbly and campy, and basically just good family fun.

Loaded with big-name actors (John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah) as well as a batch of younger stars with massive fanbases (Zac Efron of High School Musical fame, Amanda Bynes, and Brittany Snow), this latest take on Hairspray differs from John Waters’ 1988 original film due to its squeaky clean approach to racism and integration. The tone’s totally different and fans of Waters’ work might be put off by this watered down, sugary sweet approach. The lessons are still there and still relevant, but this time they’re told in an all-ages friendly and less subversive, for lack of a better word, manner than Waters’ movie. That doesn’t make Hairspray any less appealing, but rather it’s just a fluffier Hairspray-lite compared to the Waters movie that spawned both the Broadway show and this remake.
The Story

Busting onto the screen with a catchy ditty called “Good Morning Baltimore,” Tracy Turnblad (engaging newcomer Nikki Blonsky) declares her love for her city, singing, and dancing while strutting her stuff down the streets of Baltimore circa 1961. She’s a happy girl with a healthy appetite who can dance better than the kids on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV program made up of white teenagers with perfect teeth and perfect figures. Tracy’s given the chance to prove she has what it takes when one of the show’s female dancers is forced to take a nine-month leave of absence (wink-wink).

During tryouts Tracy is put down and told off by the horrid station manager Velma Von Tussle (Pfeiffer) and her equally self-absorbed daughter, Amber (Snow). Even Tracy’s mother Edna (Travolta in one of the most interesting roles of his career) doesn’t believe someone of Tracy’s size (she’s beyond pleasantly plump) will ever have a chance at landing a spot on a TV series. But Tracy’s been taking lessons from the black kids she hangs out with in detention and her far-out moves help win her the job.
Our girl Tracy quickly figures out that what’s going on on the show isn’t fair and shouldn’t be tolerated. Velma’s more than just an obnoxious loudmouth; she’s a racist who won’t allow Corny Collins to integrate the show and only reluctantly puts up with the ‘Negro Day’ broadcasts. One day a month Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) takes over for Corny (James Marsden), spinning records and hosting talented dancers who don’t conform to Velma’s ‘whites only’ standards. Taking up the cause, Tracy proudly proclaims that every day should be Negro Day and joins Motormouth Maybelle and her friends to work on ending segregation – at least at the TV station.

Director Adam Shankman did a terrific job of casting the film. Even though John Travolta might not appear to be the most obvious choice to fill the king-size shoes of Divine, Travolta packs on the pounds in a humongous fat suit and transforms into a charming character who wins over our hearts. Travolta plays it very honestly and not at all like a man playing a woman and by doing so, almost dissolves into the role. Almost. Singing and dancing and worrying over whether her husband still loves her the way he did the day he married her makes you just want to reach out and hug the character, and that means Travolta definitely did his job.
Christopher Walken plays Travolta’s wife and Blonsky’s father, the owner of a joke shop who is totally dedicated to the two women in his life and doesn’t care one iota what size dress they wear. Walken’s a Broadway veteran and he gets to show off his nifty song and dance skills opposite Pfeiffer and opposite Travolta. Pfeiffer’s so deliciously evil you want to boo-hiss her off the screen and Queen Latifah is better utilized in this than she was in Chicago, and for that film she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Nikki Blonsky was working at a Cold Stone Creamery when word came that she got the coveted role of Tracy in Hairspray. Director Adam Shankman wanted to hire a fresh face to play the part and Blonsky nailed the auditions. She also nailed the performance in the film. Blonsky’s got that special indefinable something and it’s fairly certain she won’t be a one hit wonder.

Zac Efron’s adorable as the heartthrob with a social conscious who has to decide between picture-perfect Amber and big-boned Tracy. Teen girls (and maybe some women who aren’t quite so young) are going to go crazy over his thrusting hips and handsome face. Brittany Snow has the tough job of playing a mini-Pfeiffer but she sells the part by not overplaying it. And although Amanda Bynes is used to being the lead in films, she seems perfectly at home in the supporting role of Tracy’s best friend who falls for Motormouth Maybelle’s son Seaweed (Elijah Kelley). Bynes looks adorable in pig tails and her comic timing is impeccable.

Thank goodness movie musicals have re-emerged as a legitimate form of escapism. This decade has given us Moulin Rouge and Chicago, which then paved the way for Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Dreamgirls, and now Hairspray, which comes close to being the best of the lot (Moulin Rouge still has it beat on the basis of screenwriting and depth of story). There’s one show-stopping number after another in this entertaining and infectiously fun movie that’s unabashedly campy and simply delightful.

Hairspray does come close to trying too hard to please and to say the film hammers home its messages is a huge understatement. But the exuberant performances of all involved and the fantastic choreography by director Adam Shankman manage to save the film from slipping over the edge. Hairspray’s catchy melodies and bouncy, energetic dance numbers will have even the most cynical movie patrons breaking into smiles and tapping their toes.
Date Added: 04/28/2013 by makrateli
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