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Hairspray (1988)

DVD Cover (New Line Studios)
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6.8
 / 10
5 votes
Movie Connections:
Hairspray
> Hairspray (1988)
> Hairspray (2007)
Genres:
Comedy, Domestic Comedy, Musical Comedy, Satire
Director:
John Waters John Waters
Starring:
Sonny Bono Sonny Bono
Ruth Brown Ruth Brown
Divine Divine
Deborah Harry Deborah Harry
Ricki Lake Ricki Lake
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: April 21, 2007
With the impending release of the big budget musical version of "Hairspray" looming, it seemed only fitting that the original John Waters film find its review on this site. To say "Hairspray" is John Waters' most accessible film would be an understatement. While the tone and style of Waters is dripping from the picture, it still manages to keep it rather clean and watchable for most audience, which is why I suppose the film has become such a staple in American pop culture. It's a funny, goofy comedy that isn't going for anything other than belly laughs. It's a film that touches on some touchy subjects, like Civil Rights and class rights and things of that nature, but it disguises them in a very colorful and harmless package. This is John Waters politics wrapped in John Waters sparkle.

The film tells the story of Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake), an overweight gal living in Baltimore who absolutely loves The Corny Collins Show. She and her best pal, Penny (Leslie Ann Powers) watch the show every day, wishing how they could be on the show and teach the whole world how to dance. Tracy's mother (Divine) and father (Jerry Stiller) are middle class workers and want the best for their daughter. One day, however, Tracy lucks up and lands a spot on the show, turning her world upside down, much to the dismay of her rival, Amber von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick) and her mother Velma (Deborah Harry) and father (Sonny Bono). Tracy is eventually sent to the special education class, where she meets Seaweed (Clayton Prince), who introduces her to Motormouth Maybelle (Ruth Brown) and an assortment of colorful characters.

First, you need to separate the film "Hairspray" from the musical "Hairspray". John Waters was involved with both, but the film is not a musical, so much. Sure, it has lots of dance numbers, but it's not a musical in the broad sense of the word. "Hairspray" is a straight-up comedy. That said, I'm sure it was much easier to turn a film like this into a musical than a film like "Carrie". Waters' directorial skills are at the top of their form here, with his script crackling with humor and authenticity. Waters' creates several memorable characters and develops them with a love and a tact that is sometimes missing in his raunchier, less mainstream pictures. He genuinely crafted a very sweet and very uplifting pictures here, teaching valuable messages on personal identity and acceptance.

As for performances, all of the old Waters' gang is here and kicking. Divine basically defined the role of Edna from the start and the stage production merely tried its best to copy that performance. Divine is outstanding as the role of the protective mother. As Tracy, Ricki Lake is full of energy and life and does one hell of a good job of making us root for her character. Other highlights include the fabulous Ruth Brown as Motormouth Maybelle, Jerry Stiller as Tracy's dad, and Sonny Bono and Mink Stole in smaller supporting roles. Waters' always uses his people, and the good thing is that he knows how to use them. No one is wasted. "Hairspray" is a fine film will enjoy a re-birth thanks to the new film coming out. Both films should be appreciated on their own merits, and it's important to realize -- they're two different films, by genre. I hope, both good ones. 9/10.
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