I’ve heard that Hollywood musicals are making a comeback, but the only recent Hollywood musicals that I can think of are Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) and Across the Universe (2007). The other musicals that have hit theaters are movie versions of Broadway musicals; not true Hollywood musicals. Hairspray (2007), directed by Adam Shankman, is based off of a Broadway musical, which itself was based off of a non-musical movie by John Waters. This third telling of the story is teeming with energy and fun.
In 1962 Maryland, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is brimming with joy as she wakes up for school, singing “Good morning, Baltimore!” Tracy is an overweight teenager who knows all the latest dance moves. She and her friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) live for the moment when school lets out to race home and watch “The Corny Collins” show, the local teenage TV dance show, with their favorite dancer Link Larkin (Zac Efron). Tracy’s mother, Edna (John Travolta), doesn’t approve of the show. But when tryouts for the show are announced, Tracy’s father, Wilbur (Christopher Walken), tells her to go for it and reach for the stars. Initially turned down by the TV station’s racist manager, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her daughter Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), Tracy’s dance moves later catch the eye of both Link Larkin and Corny Collins (James Marsden). When Tracy makes it onto the show, she begins a crusade to end the show’s “Negro Day,” hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), and fully integrate the show with black and white dancers. The Von Tussels fight tooth and manicured nail to keep the show a “whites only” program. Equal rights, gaining self-respect, social change, and overcoming racism and bigotry are all tackled with catchy musical numbers and energetic dancing.
This is Nikky Blonsky’s very first movie. In fact, she went from working at a Cold Stone Creamery ice cream store to starring in a major motion picture with big name actors. She does a fantastic job for her first role. Hairspray is a deliriously fun, happy, and energetic movie, primarily because Nikky Blonsky was at the heart of the film. She’s positively adorable, and exudes happiness and joy throughout the film. You can’t help but get swept up in her optimism and smile along with her. No wonder Link fell head over heels for her.
The all star cast was fantastic, but John Travolta was particularly interesting. Holding true to tradition, Edna Turnblad is played by a man. It was unexpected to see the masculine Travolta playing a woman, particularly a heavy set one. He even manages sound like a woman when he speaks. Edna is an insecure woman who is hasn’t left the house in years because she is self-conscious about her weight, but she has a big heart and is every bit as endearing as Tracy. I don’t see many John Travolta films, but this seems to be a very counter typecast role for him, and he does a great job. I have to praise the costume designers, too. Travolta’s hourglass-like fat suit was pretty convincing.
The art direction was fantastic. The set designs were amazing; they really pulled off the feel of the early 1960’s. This was before The Beatles, Vietnam, and the hippie movement, so most things looked clean and sensational; a lot like they were in the 1950’s. Clothing, color schemes, hair styles, cars, even large outdoor sets really made it feel like we are stepping back in time. Everything was stylized with lots of glitz and glamour, just like many graphic designs were in the early 60’s. Television was influential in that decade and was often visible in the background or was the focal point transitioning between scenes in this movie.
Lastly, the music in this movie was enjoyable. The opening number really draws you in and then doesn’t let go. All of the songs are engaging, the upbeat songs, slow songs, exciting songs, and romantic songs; all of them are memorable and fun. In many musicals there are story and character development interrupted by everyone bursting into song and dance. This is highly unrealistic, by any stretch of the imagination. But in the context of Hairspray, it seems much more natural since music and dance are major components to the plot and characters. I’ve seen some musicals where the songs are so similar to each other in terms of tempo, beat, and rhythm that it seems like you’re listening to the same song for two hours. Not so with Hairspray. The songs remain diverse and fun. The music doesn’t really let you go until after the grand finale. Even then, you’re still so engaged that you want to listen to the songs during the closing credits.
I love Hairspray! It’s so much fun to watch! It has good characters, great actors, fun songs, great art direction, clever humor, and a good story about overcoming discrimination in terms of race and appearance. Hairspray is a good selection for a family movie night; I think it’s worth owning. I have a copy of Hairspray on Blu-Ray on my movie shelf. I pull it out to watch after a rough day and I feel much better afterwards. You can’t help but feel happy watching it.