Hairspray (2007)

DVD Cover (New Line Studios)
Genres: Dance Film, Musical, Musical Comedy, Period Film, Rock Musical, Teen Comedy
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Adam Shankman Adam Shankman
John Travolta John Travolta
Michelle Pfeiffer Michelle Pfeiffer
Christopher Walken Christopher Walken
Amanda Bynes Amanda Bynes
James Marsden James Marsden
Movie Connections:
> Hairspray (1988)
> Hairspray (2007)

6.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: July 22, 2007
Talk about a long and winding road - "Hairspray" has seen just about every incarnation known to man. It started out as a film in 1988, written and directed by John Waters, the grande dame of trash cinema, who gained his notoriety with films like "Polyester" and "Pink Flamingos". The film was a blend of his trademark camp and a new kind of sweetness Waters was playing with. The film worked and become an instant cult sensation. Then, in the late-90's, Broadway took a shine to the film and converted it into a smash musical that basically swept the Tony Awards and revitalized interest in a film that had started to collect dust. So, it was only a matter of time (especially after the success of musicals like "Chicago" and "Dreamgirls") before Hollywood would once again be knocking down the door of John Waters and on the search for another buck or two. The latest incarnation is a film based on the Broadway musical, directed and choreographed by Adam Shankman, whose previous film efforts include "Bringing Down the House" and "The Pacifier". So, my anticipation for this project was 'slight', to say the very least. Could someone really bring the fun and energy of the stage show successfully to the screen? Could someone really distance this film enough from the original, but still keep that quintessential John Waters charm?

The film tells the story of young Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), growing up in 1960's Baltimore with her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes), her laundress mother Edna (John Travola) and her father Wilbur (Christopher Walken), who owns a novelty store. Tracy is in love with the coolest kid in school, Link Larkin (Zac Efron) and dreams of taking a place alongside Link on The Corny Collins Show, a popular dance show in town, hosted by Corny Collins (James Marsden) and produced by the sinister Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer). When Tracy finally gets her chance to audition for the show, she shines, and is offered a spot, where she immediately starts to make big changes in those around her, most notably trying to make every day Negro Day and introduce the idea of integration into Baltimore television. She does so with the help of her friend Seaweed (Elijah Kelly) and his mother Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). As Tracy and her friend try to make The Corny Collins Show a milestone in television history, Velma Von Tussle desperately tries to do everything in her power to keep it from happening, while Tracy's mother Edna tries to keep up with the times, and her daughter - all for the good of the Turnblad family.

Compared to the original 1988 film, the plotlines are pretty much identical. What makes Adam Shankman's film work is...well... a lot. First, you have the energy. Everyone in this film looks absolutely excited to be there and they all do their best to keep the energy as high as possible. It really does capture even more energy than the Broadway production, and I could have never thought that to be possible. Shankman's direction works in all the right ways, and his choreography (it's good to know Shankman was a Broadway choreographer before he took up directing) is absolutely flawless - the best in any recent movie musical. "Hairspray" doesn't try for anything other than entertaining the audience, and the actors and director are well up for the task. Musical numbers like "Good Morning Baltimore", "I Can Hear the Bells", "Welcome to the 60's" and "You Can't Stop the Beat" are fabulous to watch unfold and Shankman really does a good job of bringing Baltimore in the 1960's to life on screen, when we only get glimpses in the stage production. "Mama I'm A Big Girl Now", one of the most popular songs from the stage show, was cut from the film, but that didn't distract me, nor did writing out the subplot of Tracy going to jail. Shankman works around that and gives us a nice alternative. I was very surprised, but "Hairspray" might be the best movie musical, all around, since...well...way before "Chicago" even thought about happening.

Once again, the energy level is through the roof and that's thanks largely to a mostly amazing cast of actors. John Travolta is everything you want Edna to be, and more. His accent is a thick country slur that pays tribute to both Divine and Harvey Fierstein, while still finding his own unique voice amongst all the make-up and prosthetics. Travolta is just full of creativity here and it's the best thing I've seen him do in ages, and have so much fun doing. Christopher Walken provides steady and equal support as Wilbur Turnblad, a role that Walken takes as his own. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky is fantastic in her first film role, with a booming voice, tons of charm and a definite career on stage ahead of her. Zac Efron and James Marsden really shine as Link Larkin and Corny Collins, and their voices are some of the best in the mix. Allison Janney is probably the highlight of the film as Penny's mother, though she gets far too little stage time. Queen Latifah's performance has 'diva' written all over it and she dominates each and every scene she is in. If there are any weak links in the film, it's Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussle and Brittany Snow as Amber Von Tussle. They really seem to be ill prepared for the roles, and Pfeiffer's voice is far from exceptional. I expected more from her and was disappointed to see her fall behind everyone else.

So, yes, I absolutely loved "Hairspray". It's a film that goes for broke and it succeeds on so many levels. Many people thought casting John Travolta in the lead was a mistake, but I think most if not all of them will be silenced after watching the film. He really does create a likable and sweet character and make you root for him throughout. Director Adam Shankman really adds a nice notch to his career here and he certainly shows he has more in him than "The Pacifier" would demonstrate. And watch for John Waters and Ricki Lake pop up in very funny cameos, with Waters as a flasher and Lake as an agent from the William Morris Agency. Divine would be proud that her shoes have been filled so elegantly. John Waters can be proud that his baby was given such fine treatment, once again. You can be proud that "Hairspray" doesn't disappoint and lives up to all of the hype critics have been bestowing upon it. It really is just a fantastic film.

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