Hairspray

Hairspray

****1/2

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

What a lovely surprise - a fat-suit sporting movie that doesn't make me want to bury my head in my hands and weep. Based on the screenplay of the 1988 movie of the same name by John Waters - king of renegade and witty trash - Hairspray is a sincere, thoroughly entertaining romp; bursting with boundless energy, inventive choreography and performances that quite simply delight.

This early Sixties musical comedy opens with a bright, starry rendition of Good Morning Baltimore by plus-size teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky - perfectly cast, with a voice and personality as amiable as sunshine). No sooner have we left the house than Hollywood and Broadway combine and explode as director/choreographer Adam Shankman (Cheaper By The Dozen 2 - all is forgiven) delivers a voluminous helping of the ol' razzle-dazzle. The heightened, fantastical periodset-dressing is perfect, the costumes are bright and colourful, and the pace never flags. And neither do the goofy grins affixed to our faces.

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The plot, such as it is, exists to support a fantastic string of often saucy dance numbers and deliciously rude lyrics. Tracy and her best friend Penny (Amanda Byrnes) have one source of joy in their lives. This is The Corney Collins Show - a teenage rock-and-roll programme sponsored by a hairspray company - to which they sing and dance along. Link Larkin (Zac Efron, looking, sounding and performing scarily like Ray Quinn from the 2006 season of X-Factor) is the new teenage heart-throb of the show, and Tracy quickly falls for him.

The show auditions for a new replacement for one of their female performers - who has a "nine month" leave of absence - and of course Tracy can dance with the best of them and skips school to be one of the show's "Nicest Kids in Town". The show has an all-white cast, other than one day a month, designated Negro Day, hosted by record store owner Motormouth Maybelle, played by Queen Latifah - capable of firing off zingers such as: "If we get any more white people in this store, this is going to be a suburb". This being pre-Civil Rights, segregation is still very much in force. Tracy and the black kids come together, learning fresh dance moves and making friends quickly.

The cast is uniformly terrific, with standouts being Christopher Walken and John Travolta as Tracy's parents, Wilbur and Edna. As the stage version and 1988 movie dictate, Edna must be portrayed by a man in drag. So Travolta slaps on the fat-suit and sells the comedy to perfection with drama, pathos and very big laughs without really appearing to try. It's an invisible performance; while his character takes the largest arc, everyone has a ball throughout.

Wilbur owns a joke-shop called the Hardy Har Har, and sells practical jokes and novelties (using whoopie cushions for a bed is a gag that never gets tired), all the while fully believing in his daughter, and dutifully having eyes for no other woman other than his wife. Witness the delightful fantasy song-and-dance number Timeless To Me with Edna and Wilbur serenading each other. It's a little bit sweet, a little bit sexy(!), but moreover a big and funny idea that pays off well.

Shankman easily exposes the soft and sweet - if slightly more innocent than I suspect Waters (spotted early on in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo) would have liked - core of the story. By slapping on the satire thick and broad, it's fair to say that Hairspray kind of misses the point about race-relations as immutable force, although in itself expressing these issues in song and dance is a brave and clever move. More to the point, arguing for real social melting pots in day-to-day life has rarely been successful.

Hairspray is too much simple and straight-up joy for these charges to stick, however. In the realm of filmed musicals, it's funnier and lighter than Chicago and less-stagey than the empty, slick redo of The Producers.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2007
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A big-budget remake of the John Waters classic, with a teenage hair hopper rebel becoming a star even without a dainty figure.
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Director: Adam Shankman

Writer: Leslie Dixon, based on the screenplay by John Waters.

Starring: Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, Zac Efron, Brittany Snow

Year: 2007

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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