Fans of musicals will not be disappointed with “Hairspray.” This is a delightful romp with a soundtrack that will linger long after the movie is over.
From the first moment the movie starts, so does the music. There is no preamble; the actors burst into song from the very first frame. This serves to dispel some of the awkwardness inherent in the genre, yet it still ran the risk of turning off the viewers at the talk-singing that was used throughout the film.
However, in this instance, it worked beautifully as the audience is instantly swept up into the happy feeling of the film.
This is a bubblegum story of a chubby teenage girl in the sixties with a dream. She wants to dance on the local TV show and win the heart of the teen crooner. Yet there is also a healthy sprinkling of social consciousness thrown in to boot. It works as the music serves to disarm the threat behind the messages of segregation and acceptance of those who are different, and delivers a wonderful story that left the audience rolling with laughter and grinning from ear to ear.
The songs are great fun with lines that zing with their unique sense of humor and sharp wit. The tunes are so catchy that if the audience didn’t pay attention they’d miss a lot of those lines.
Yet they’re not all light, fluffy or funny. The best song in the bunch might be “I Know Where I’ve Been,” sung by Queen Latifah (“Last Holiday,” “Beauty Shop”), which had some of the audience members in tears. It was beautifully done and surprising to see such a somber note in the mix.
As a result, there is no disguising the fact that this movie is based on a Tony award-winning Broadway musical. In fact, the movie feels like a stage musical only with bigger sets, as the actors don’t hold back on belting out the tunes. And every single one of them sang their own songs. There was no dubbing here. Yet the biggest surprise had to be James Marsden (“Superman Returns,” “X2”), who showed he really could sing and croon with the best of them.
This movie also doesn’t forget its original roots in the eighties film of the same name. There are great cameos by previous writer and director John Waters (“Cry-Baby,” “Pink Flamingos”) as a flasher and the original Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake, “Babycakes,” “Mrs. Winterbourne”) as a talent agent.
The cast of actors in this film couldn’t have been better. Everyone turned in a great performance, and everyone could sing breathtakingly well. However, Queen Latifah was perhaps the most well-cast actress in the film as Motormouth Maybelle, the big black woman in charge of Negro day on the local TV show. There might even be an Oscar nod in her future for her beautiful work.
Michelle Pfeiffer (“White Oleander,” “What Lies Beneath”) was perfect as the cold-hearted station manager who kept pushing her own agenda. And the makeup tricks on her to make her look old and haggard were astounding. But the best makeup and performance had to be John Travolta (“Wild Hogs,” “Basic”) as Edna Turnblad. Who would have thought that Travolta in drag could be not only funny, but also touching?
Previously, fat suits in films were used only to comedic effect, but here they were used with a purpose. At least three of the women in this film are plus-sized, and the script doesn’t sidestep that issue at all. Edna is the mother of Tracy Turnblad, the main character. Travolta certainly has fun with the role with such lines as “I’m the cutest chicky you ever did see,” but he also brings a certain pathos to Edna that shows great insight into what it is to be a woman at odds with herself.
While this film does promote acceptance of full-figured women with such songs as “Big, Blonde and Beautiful,” also sung by Queen Latifah, it doesn’t cross the line of romanticizing the cost of that chubbiness. Edna at first refuses to let her daughter Tracy (Nikki Blonsky, “Entertainment Tonight,” “Richard and Judy”) go to the dance tryouts as she’s afraid she will be hurt because of her size. Edna herself hasn’t left the house in sixteen years because she’s afraid of what others will think of her. She also frets about her romantic relationship with her husband.
This is not a gross fat joke just for humor’s sake, but instead an acceptance of the characters for who they are, and it’s done with great flair.
This is a film well worth seeing in the theater. It’s fun and will make the audience want to get up and dance, or at least fight the urge to do so; it’s a great, upbeat film that will leave anyone smiling and singing by the end of it.