STARRING Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta and Christopher Walken
DIRECTED BY Adam Shankman
Opens Friday, July 20
By the time the spastically happy Technicolor opening number of Hairspray is finished, it becomes abundantly clear that you are going to have to throw your cynicism to the wind and just embrace the camp, colour and corniness of this charming musical remake. The latest update of John Waterss 1988 film and the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Hairspray sashays into your heart with a healthy dose of self-awareness and an even bigger dash of cheesiness. Despite all your most pretentious efforts, you leave the theatre dancing.
Set in Baltimore in 1962, a time when variety dance shows were all the rage and segregation was still present, Hairspray delivers a fluffily uplifting tale that doesnt strive to reinvent the movie musical or make any valid political statement, but instead offers up a bit of summer movie escapism. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky stars as Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized high schooler with plus-sized dreams of dancing on the "Corney Collins Show." During an open audition, Tracy impresses Corney (James Marsden) and dances her way on to the show, despite the station managers (Michelle Pfeiffer) attempts to keep its whitewashed version of reality. In the process, Tracy helps change the TV stations segregation policy, and proves that you dont have to look like everyone else to fit in.
Much of the films pleasure stems from John Travolta in the role of Tracys big boned mother. Returning to his musical roots, Travolta steals every scene he is in with his strange western drawl and endearing eyelash bats. But Hairspray doesnt possess the inventiveness of some of its Oscar-winning musical predecessors. The script is uneven, the characters are sometimes one-dimensional, and some of Hollywoods best actors and actresses, like Queen Latifa and Christopher Walken, are underused and underdeveloped.
When Waterss film came out in the late 80s, its political message could still have been seen as relevant, with the Reagan eras us versus them mentality still resounding. In an era where being different is a popular commodity, that message seems redundant. In the end, this is not a film trying to reach beyond its fluff to create any kind of meaningful dialogue. It is a candy-coloured romp through a more innocent time, and maybe in a summer filled with killer Pirates and monstrous robots, that is enough.