Hairspray is a Grease for the new millennium, just the kind of bubblegum musical that keeps your toes tappin'except this time John Travolta is wearing a fat suit and nylons. Shiver.
When eccentric writer/director John Waters made the subversive but colorful Hairspray in 1988about a plus-sized girl and her dreams to dance, as she breaks taboos in the early '60she probably thought it would be chalked up as another of his cult favorites. But here we are, reviewing the latest Hairspray incarnation, a movie version of the smash hit Broadway musical, based on the 1988 offbeat classic. Funny how things work. The story is pretty much the same: The bubbly Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, wants to dance on Baltimore's TV dance show The Corny Collins Show. Her mother, Edna (Travolta) isn't too keen on her daughter's aspirations only because she doesn't want to see Tracy hurt. But against all odds, Tracy wows them on and off the TV screen, squashing the reigning princess, Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), finding love with the local hunk Link (Zac Efron)and fighting for racial equality on the hippest dance party on TV.
Tracy is the cornerstone to making Hairspray zingand every actress who has played her has nailed it in her own way. Ricki Lake gave us a good start as the original; Marissa Jaret Winokur won a Tony playing her on Broadway. Now, we have brilliant newcomer Nikki Blonsky, a former ice cream parlor employee who beat out several hundred girls to win the role. Her happy-go-lucky Tracy quite literally lights up the screen every time she appears, and you find yourself grinning like a fool the whole time she is shimmying and shaking. Let's hope she isn't just a one-trick pony. The supporting cast is also very appealing. Michelle Pfeiffer, who once again gets to use those lovely pipes of hers, is perfectly unctuous as Velma Von Tussle, Amber's scheming mother and the TV station manager. Queen Latifah adds her certain joie de vivre as Motormouth Maybelle, the host of Corny Collins' "Negro Day." Also good are Amanda Bynes, as Tracy's lollypop-eating best friend Penny Pingleton, and Elijah Kelley as the groovin' Seaweed, Penny's forbidden love. The one drawback is Travolta as the oversized Edna. He does a fair job as the caring mom who is reticent to let her daughter go out into the big, bad world. We can even see the old Travolta we know and love come alive when Edna dances. But because the actor simply looks so very wrong in latex and lipstick, it takes away from the performance. No one can really surpass the late Divine, the original Hairspray's Turnblad matriarch, who did it au naturel.
Directing a movie like Hairspray is basically a no-brainer, and choosing Adam Shankman to helm is as good a choice as anyone else. He is certainly not known for his cinematic genius, having directed fluff such as Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and The Pacifier, but he understands the bubblegum appeal of a bee-bopping musical. Fueled by catchy tunes from the Broadway show, plus a few new ones created just for the movie, Shankman orchestrates the big song and dance numbersof which there are plentyin such a way to get you moving in your seat every time. He also frames his talent in their more personal, character-driven songs with a steady hand. I just wonder what John Waters would have done with it. Maybe a little more dog poop? In any event, forget about Chicago and Dreamgirls--Hairspray is the perfect popcorn movie musical that will get everyone dancing and singing the way Grease did a generation ago.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.