Plot: The original “Hairspray” film inspired a Broadway musical, which in turn inspired a film, based on the musical … you still with me? At the center of it all is Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) who is obsessed with a Baltimore dance show, and attempts to teach the town about integration after landing a spot on the show. Edna Turnblad (John Travolta) attempts to reel in her daughter, but then gets caught up in the excitement of the times as well.
Who’s it for: You’ve got to love full-blown Broadway musicals to enjoy this movie. You have got to love full-blown Broadway musicals to enjoy this movie. That wasn’t an editing error; I just needed you to REALLY understand.
Expectations: The previews made me cringe. A fun musical about the racial climate in the ’60s with John Travolta in drag just wasn’t something that put a smile on my face … until I saw the film.
Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad: At the core of this story, it’s just a girl yearning for more with some singing and dancing thrown in. Blonsky is an actress who isn’t afraid to shake her arm fat. The character flaws for Tracy are actually the reason she succeeds, Tracy is naïve and ignorant. Luckily she does it with enough humor and warmth.
John Travolta as Edna Turnblad: Uncomfortable. That’s how I felt watching someone who used to be one of my favorites (“Saturday Night Fever,” “Pulp Fiction”). I bet most of America will enjoy this performance, but it didn’t work for me. And it really had nothing to do with the fat suit or playing a woman. The voice, especially the singing voice, was such a distraction that I never saw Edna as a person.
Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad: He is a diamond in the rough, or perhaps he’s the rough in a land of diamonds. Walken just has “it.” Plus, he gets to sing and dance a little (see 1981’s “Pennies from Heaven” for more of that).
Rest of the Cast: Michele Pfieffer as Velma Von Tussle steals every scene she’s in except when she’s trying to seduce Wilbur. Queen Latifah has the difficult task of singing the only heavy song in the film, but she does a fine job with it. Amanda Bynes has some great lines, but isn’t quite the comedic actress to pull them off.
Talking: The film worked at its best when it delved into the subversive humor of the racial idiocy of the ’60s. Lines such as, “Negro Day’s the best. I wish every day was Negro Day,” coming out of Tracy were perfect. Unfortunately, there was so much of that, I found it difficult to take the serious parts … well, serious.
Sights and sounds: This is absolutely what a Broadway musical turned film should look like. The set design was amazing. Travolta’s fat suit served its purpose well, and little moments such as the smoke filling up the teacher’s lounge were perfect adaptations. Plus, in the early going, John Waters (the director of the original film) has a great cameo.
I like my musicals without the morality. I want “Moulin Rouge” not “Dreamgirls.” Well, “Hairspray” attempts to have both, and to my surprise, they have made a crowd-pleaser. The film works best for me when they are making fun of the racial climate of the 1960s. Blonsky does a great job in the lead role and her spirit will be contagious. But with Travolta in the fat suit and Walken in a joke shop, it’s still just an over-the-top comedy which tries to pull off a little too much.
Overall Grade: 7