So what if Hairspray takes place during the 1960s? This big, bold, bodacious film version of the hit Broadway musical is timeless to me. I think it’s the best movie musical since Singin’ in the Rain -- which is quite a compliment, for that entertaining film ranks as my number one all-time favorite movie. Because I wasn’t fond of the original 1988 Hairspray film, written and directed by John Waters, my enthusiastic reaction completely surprised me.
Just like Singin’ in the Rain, Hairspray moves along without a single dull moment from beginning to end. And it features the same type of energetic performances as well as musical numbers that are uninterrupted by cut-away shots, so viewers can enjoy the talents displayed by actors, musicians, composers (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) and choreographer extraordinaire Adam Shankman, who also served as director.
One particular number, “Timeless to Me,” featuring Christopher Walken and John Travolta (in an enormous fat suit and female make-up), actually moved me to tears. Granted, I’m an incurable romantic, but I never thought I’d accept Travolta as a woman, let alone these two as husband and wife. However, as I watched them sing and dance to this lovely, touching ballad, I forgot they were Walken (Click) and Travolta (Wild Hogs); they actually became Mr. and Mrs. Turnblad up there on the silver screen.
Perfectly cast, Hairspray boasts superb performances from everyone in the movie. Playing Tracy Turnblad, the perky plus-size teen who wants desperately to be a dancer on TV’s “The Corny Collins Show,” newcomer Nikki Blonsky simply couldn’t be better. She makes us care about her character immediately as she belts out “Good Morning, Baltimore”-- and we cheer Tracy’s dedication to doing the right thing after discovering the evils of segregation practiced on the show. Blonsky also sings and dances like she was born to be a star!
As Tracy’s loyal best friend Penny, Amanda Bynes (She’s the Man) has very little dialogue and doesn’t sing and dance as much as the rest of the cast, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off her when she came on screen. Talk about scene-stealing! Her big, expressive eyes tell us everything we need to know about what she’s thinking. Bynes’ impeccable comic timing never ceases to amaze me.
Zac Efron (High School Musical ) will probably make many new fans because of his outstanding work here as a teen heartthrob who falls for Tracy, much to the dismay of his snobbish girlfriend played by Brittany Snow (John Tucker Must Die). And Elijah Kelley(Take the Lead) shows off spectacular dance moves as the star of “The Corny Collins Show Negro Day” specials.
Lending her considerable charisma to the role of Motormouth Maybelle, the frustrated host of “Negro Day,” Queen Latifah (Chicago) turns in another dynamic performance. What a voice! Her pure, stirring rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” as Maybelle leads a march against segregation is incredibly inspiring.
Kudos also go to Michelle Pfeiffer (What Lies Beneath) as the up-tight, bigoted Velma Van Tussle and to James Marsden as Corny Collins, the self-involved but forward-looking TV host. Pfeiffer plays the villain of the piece, and she definitely seems to relish the part. Marsden (X-Men) sets the movie’s high-energy tone with his exuberant singing and dancing while introducing his character’s television show.
I’m so bowled over by the film’s musical numbers and performances, I almost forgot to give credit to Leslie Dixon (Freaky Friday) for the spirited screenplay, which certainly does justice to this story about how a spunky teen helped bring black and white together on a popular TV program back in the sixties.
“You Can’t Stop the Beat,” the movie’s explosive finale, had me tapping my feet and swaying in my theater seat, but I wasn’t the only one. For an avid movie musical fan like me, Hairspray has it all -- rousing song-and-dance routines, talented performers, a feel-good story about an underdog’s triumph, and timeless appeal. I can hardly wait to see this outstanding film again.
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated “PG” for language, some suggestive content, and momentary teen smoking.)
Listen to Betty Jo Tucker and John P. McCarthy discuss this movie on BlogTalkRadio by clicking here.