Hairspray (2007)

"Extraordinary"

Hairspray (2007) Review


As Hairspray opens, director Adam Shankman's camera parts the clouds and peers down from the heavens on beautiful Baltimore. A star is born. Maryland's blue-collar port city deserves top billing in the Hairspray credits, for it is as much a central character to the story as John Travolta's portly and protective housewife or Michelle Pfeiffer's catty television producer.

Immediately, the music kicks in. The day-to-day sounds of the bustling town melt with Marc Shaiman's infectious doo-wop score and the camera swoops toward the modest bedroom of typical teen Tracy Turnblad, who is played to perfection by newcomer Nikky Blonsky. Another star is born. But though the angle may descend rapidly, Shankman's movie remains airborne for two full hours, bolstered by the incomparable high that accompanies the raucous joy of musical rebellion.

Almost a month has passed since I first saw Hairspray, yet still I smile whenever a particular scene or musical number comes to mind... which is often. A jolt of unbridled entertainment, Hairspray is the cinematic equivalent of the up-tempo track a wedding-reception deejay would play when he or she needs to coax people toward the dance floor and keep them there. It is the only film out this summer I have been begging everyone to see, and the one film I'm willing to see again and again.

Hairspray takes a uniquely circular path to the big screen. Shankman's film adapts the Tony-winning Broadway musical which, itself, was inspired by a John Waters movie (Waters gives his stamp approval early with a recognizable cameo during the film's opening number). Set during the segregated early '60s, Hairspray centers on happy-go-lucky teenager Tracy and her innocent (but misguided) efforts to land a spot on the wildly popular and racially sanitized Corny Collins dance program. Think American Bandstand as hosted by the surprisingly charismatic James Marsden and policed by the paranoid Pfeiffer.

Tracy's biggest obstacle to stardom, besides her own plump figure, might be her mother, Edna (Travolta, in women's clothing but never a drag). A virtual shut-in, Edna projects her fear of a close-minded society on her daughter and fails to see the young girl's inner beauty. Part of Tracy's journey includes updating her mother's mindset, which occurs during the robust duet "Welcome to the '60s."

To its credit, Hairspray doesn't pretend to be anything but a full-blown musical, offering tiny bridges of narrative dialogue between huge song-and-dance routines. Shankman butters his bread with musical beats, but retains the tongue-in-cheek racial humor that is held over from Waters' original film. Queen Latifah glows as Motormouth Maybelle, a sassy and street-smart personality who hosts Collins' annual "Negro Day." And Tracy picks ups dance moves previously unseen on the white side of the tracks when she befriends the sweetly supportive Seaweed J. Stubbs (Elijah Kelley) in detention. Shankman plays this material for knowing laughs, and gets them. The humor in Hairspray is so coyly offensive, it is rendered inoffensive.

Hairspray might not lull, but it does occasionally dance in place for a handful of offbeat scenes. Tracy ends up on the lam after she strikes a police officer during a civil-rights march. And the film's underlying theme of loving the one you're with receives surreal affirmation when Wilbur Turnblad (Christopher Walken) cements his affection for wife Edna during a moonlight serenade.

Travolta playing a female character is a stunt that fades quickly, as Edna becomes a legitimate character with desires and anxieties. The physical performance, while admirable, is eclipsed by those of Travolta's tireless young co-stars. I, for one, am head over heels in love with Blonsky, an unabashedly big performer with plus-size pipes that are nearly eclipsed by her winning personality. Blonsky is an urban legend in the making, a part-time ice-cream scooper turned Hollywood starlet when she wowed Hairspray recruiters at an open audition. Shankman captures on screen what those talent scouts saw live. Blonsky can swing it, sing it, shake it... whatever "it" is, she's got it.

Shankman himself comes full circle on Hairspray. Scan his directorial credits, which include pseudo-comedies like Cheaper by the Dozen 2, and you'd wonder how any studio would employ him. But Shankman spent a decade in choreography before attempting to direct, and Hairspray ends up being the right vehicle for his natural talents. He brings inventive spacing to bouncy numbers like "I Can Hear the Bells" and "Run Tell That." He coaches Pfeiffer through the slinky, breathy baritone tune "Miss Baltimore Crabs," then turns up the energy for the huge choruses of "Without Love" and the show-stopping "You Can't Stop the Beat." Never would I have believed the director of Vin Diesel's The Pacifier had this in him. I stand -- or, more appropriately, dance -- corrected.

Who doesn't like pie?



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Notorious British filmmaker Nick Broomfield teams up with Austrian music documentary producer Rudi Dolezal to...

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy Movie Review

To launch their new Dark Universe franchise, Universal has taken an approach that mixes murky...

Advertisement
My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film,...

Wilson Movie Review

Wilson Movie Review

It's never helpful when a comedy becomes a bit too smug about its own quirkiness....

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

A fictionalised story from the life of Wolfgang Mozart, this lavishly produced period drama is...

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based...

Detour Movie Review

Detour Movie Review

This may look like a rather typical American indie thriller, but British filmmaker Christopher Smith...

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Boldly optimistic, this action-packed adventure breathes fresh life into the DC universe with a welcome...

Baywatch Movie Review

Baywatch Movie Review

Clearly, it's a risky proposition adapting a cheesy vintage TV series for the big screen:...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.