An adaptation of the popular Broadway play (which was an adaptation of the 1988 John Waters cult film), Hairspray stars new comer Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnbland, a pleasantly plump high school student who lives in the segregated city of Baltimore with her over weight, shut in mother Edna (John Travolta) and novelty store owner father Wilbur (Christopher Walken).
Along with her best friend Penny (Amanda Byrnes), Tracy rushes home everyday after school to watch the “Corny Collins Show”, a teen dance show hosted by Corny Collins (James Marsden) and featuring teen heart throb Link (Zac Efron). The show is aired on the WYZT station, which is managed by the vicious Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) who keeps the show segregated from the black community, save for the once a month “Negro Day” which is hosted by local R&B DJ “Motormouth” Maybelle (Queen Latifah).
When one of the shows dancers takes a leave of absence, an open audition is called to fill the spot. Tracy attends and lands the gig to the dismay of Velma and her equally snobby daughter Amber (Brittany Snow), who do not want an over sized girl on the show. Sick of the mistreatment given to her and to the black community, Tracy decides to fight back against the establishment and help usher in a new era of tolerance and understanding for all.
Adam Shankman – who (pulled double duty as the films director and choreographer) has come a long way from the vomit inducing family fair of Cheaper By The Dozen 2 and The Pacifier to create a vibrant, extravagant, extremely well structured and well paced movie filled with infectious musical numbers, big colourful sets courtesy of Oscar winning set designer Gordon Sim, and excellent costumes by Rita Ryack.
The cast is perfect. Nikki Blonsky is simply radiant in her excellent, big screen debut, belting out her songs with gusto; John Travolta returns to the musical genre with an inspired performance, pulling off the fat suit/cross dressing required for the role (it took make up artist Colin Penman four hours to turn Travolta into an obese house wife); Michelle Pfeiffer is spectacularly nasty in her first role in four years; Christopher Walken continues to impress showing off his Broadway talent (much like his turn in “Romance and Cigarettes”); and Queen Latifah is all spunk and sass.
Zac Efron, Amanda Byrnes, Elijah Kelly and James Marsden are all great, as is Alison Jenny in a hilarious minor performance as Penny’s domineering Christian mother.
The film speaks of letting go of old inhibitions and moving with the times, but does not come across as preachy. Of course, it is hard not to deny the film makers’ intentions in comparing the civil rights movement of the 1960’s (which is when the movie is based) to the homosexual rights of today. Exactly how that will go over is anyone’s guess. Some might find it to be a relevant comparison; others may find the issues of race and homosexuality to be miles apart.
However it is a tad hypocritical that a movie which lectures that people of all walks of life should be treated with tolerance and respect depicts its lone Christian figure as a fundamentalist zealot, prone to racial outbursts and corporal punishment of their children. Sure, such people do exist. But where us the counter example to combat that stereotype?
But that aside, Hairspray was great, big, campy fun which had my feet tapping from beginning to end. If there is any justice, Nikki Blonsky should receive the same praise that Jennifer Hudson had for Dreamgirls. Here is to hoping that Blonsky can establish a solid acting career. Hairspray proves that she is worth it.