‘Hairspray’: Fun for a little while

Thu, 07/26/2007 - 4:19pm
By: Michael Boylan

John Waters’ film “Hairspray” was turned into a Broadway musical and now that musical has been turned into a Hollywood movie. It is the circle of show business. Unfortunately, if you are a fan of Waters’ twisted work, it has been sanitized a bit as it has taken on its musical form. That isn’t to say that the current incarnation of “Hairspray” doesn’t have its moments, it does, but it ditches the weird Waters vibe about halfway through the film and then quickly loses steam.

“Hairspray” is the story of an overweight girl named Tracy Turnblad. Her one love in life is watching “The Corny Collins Show,” an American Bandstand type show, every day after school and her dream is to one day be a featured dancer on the show. Tracy soon gets her opportunity much to the chagrin of top girl Amber, and her mean-spirited station manger mother, Velma Von Tussle. Tracy then begins to wonder why the show is segregated and wants to use her influence to break the color barrier on the show. In addition to a love story between Tracy and the show’s top boy, Link, the film focuses on Tracy’s overweight and sheltered mother, Edna, deciding to come out of her shell.

Newcomer Nikki Blonsky is fantastic as Tracy. Her voice is incredible and she charms every time she is on the screen. Zac Efron of “High School Musical” fame also does a great job as Link, proving that he has a career ahead of him aside from Disney Channel fare. The question mark in the film is John Travolta as Edna. The role of Edna has always been played by a male. In the original film transvestite Divine played the role and Harvey Firestein originated the role on Broadway. Both actors brought a certain camp factor to the production, while Travolta decided to play it straight. He was good, using a very affected accent and finding the beauty buried inside shy, demure Edna, but I would have preferred something a little more flamboyant and hammy.

The other performances in the film were solid. Michelle Pfieffer was good as Velma and Christopher Walken was Christopher Walken as Tracy’s dad. The real star of the show though was the music by Marc Shaiman. From the opening notes of “Good Morning Baltimore” to songs like “I Can Hear the Bells,” and “Welcome to the Sixties,” Shaiman captures the early sixties music vibe and has you tapping your toes and humming tunes well into the night. There are also a number of really funny lyrics in a number of the songs too.

But somewhere along the way the film starts to drag. Maybe it is one musical number too many or maybe it is the lack of an intermission to give yourself a break. “Hairspray” isn’t that long, but by the end, I felt like I got the message and didn’t want to be hit over the head with it anymore. Plus, the finale went on a bit long as well.

If you like musicals “Hairspray” is worth your time and money, just be prepared for a slightly saggy second half.


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