Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray
Nicole Blonsky (debut)
Elijah Kelley, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brittany Snow, James Marsden, Allison Janney, Taylor Parks, Jesse Weafer
|Director:||Adam Shankman—“A Walk to Remember,” “The Wedding Planner”|
|Producer:||Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Jennifer Gibgot|
|Distributor:||New Line Cinema, division of Warner Bros. Pictures|
“It was a time of tradition, a time of values, and a time …to shake things up.”
“Hairspray” is a musical extravaganza, wanting to enthrall it’s audience and capture some of the exuberance of the Broadway show. Unfortunately, it felt forced on the audience. It says ‘hey, look at me aren’t, I bright and energizing,’ but, instead, the only edifying thing in it was the bubbly personality of the lead character, Tracy Turnblad, who seemed weirdly out of place amongst all the decadence.
Set in a 60s atmosphere in Baltimore, the characters deal musically and good naturedly with some pretty heavy issues faced at the dawn of the civil rights movement and the end of conservatism that was the post war 50s.
Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky, 18 year old newcomer in her screen debut) is an overweight high-school student whose only dream is to be on a local Baltimore teen dance program, The Corny Collins Show (an American Bandstand wannabe) staring Corny (James Marsden) and his “Council”—a group of perfect, white, stuck up, conservative teenagers.
While her quirky father (Christopher Walken) who runs the Fun Jokes and Magic shop tells her to follow her dreams, her mother (the much touted roll with John Travolta in drag) reminds her that she doesn’t look like the girls on that show, and in the same breath asks everyone if they’d like a little snack of pork.
After impressing Corny, the show’s host, Tracy earns a coveted spot on the program, but when she becomes a popular addition to the cast she earns the wrath of the prettiest girl in school, Amber (Brittany Snow)—a girl whose mother Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer, after a five year screen absence), just happens to operate the local television station, WYZT, that hosts the Corny Collins Show.
Soon Tracy learns about racial tension when everyone is aghast at the budding relationship between her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) and an African-American boy, Seaweed Stubbs (Elijah Kelley). In detention after school, Tracy learns some cool dance moves along with finding out that the black kids she hangs out with are her best friends, despite the obvious racial differences.
Tracy is secretly in love with the top heart-throb on the show Linc Larkin (Zac Efron from “High School Musical” 1,2,3), and her dancing finally makes him notice her.
The comedic plot gets heavy when eventually Tracy attempts to integrate the races on her favorite dance program, calling not to have one “Negro Day,” but to make every day “checker board.”
Soon Tracy has everyone Marching on Baltimore TV station WYZT, including her unwilling, oversized Mom, to “integrate, not segregate,” losing her chance to vie for Ultra Crunch Hairspray Queen in order to stand up for what is right. Here, “Hairspray” provides a winking awareness of the way the white mainstream strip-mined African-American musical culture that just barely saves the movie from smugness. Or as Tracy says, “Being invited places by black people—it’s so hip!”
For all it’s good intentions, I found this film a Christian parent’s nightmare. Do not allow your kids to see this film alone. Although rated: PG for language, some suggestive content, and momentary teen smoking, there’s much more going on than that.
As in “Dirty Dancing,” a film with the same sentiments at heart, the dancing is very suggestive. Much hip undulating, butt slapping and tongue licking. The lyrics, although intended as comic and at times, suggestive of our uncivil civil rights issues past, in places do raise an eyebrow. The suggestion of teen promiscuity goes with a girl who “goes on leave” from the dance show for “9 months” and everyone smiles. The rant that Velma Von Tussle won her beauty pageant title because she “screwed the judges.” The reference that Ultra Crunch Hair Spray will “give you a stiffy.” That all the suggestive dance moves will “attract the opposite sex.” In the beginning scene, a cameo by John Waters (original film) as a flasher. Drawings passed around in class of a teacher with breasts. A cigarette dispenser where the cigarette is dispensed though the horses behind. Not to mention sexually suggestive song lyrics like, “The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice.” All had my Christian parent red flag alert popping up continually.
To my mind, there were only two times any sort of foul language was used when a character blurted out “Kiss my a**.” There was one time the Lord’s name was taken in vain. Characters did smoke, drink and dance in a suggestive manner, and there were two kisses.
I found the depiction of Penny’s mother, Prudy Pingleton (Allison Janney) as a religious fanatic, with a rosary as a bookmark in a dirty joke book and tying Penny to her bed forced to listen to “Church” music as punishment, very disturbing. All the negative messages hinting that good behavior, religious stability, good moral conduct and obeying the law are all qualities we don’t need, were very alarming. These messages just didn’t jive with the wonderful messages of accepting others, no matter what their color or outward appearance, equality and family love and encouragement in times of trouble.
Although I have much to crab about, there were positive qualities dotted throughout this high energy musical, unfortunately you have to really look for most of them. Uppermost, of course, is the message that we are all created equal and deserve equal treatment in every aspect of our lives. True love between a man and wife, and staying with that person for life, no matter what “shape” their body becomes. To love that heart that beats within all peoples. Parents standing by their children, and vice versa, because of an unconditional family love and standing by what is right in the eyes of our Heavenly Father (it was there in the “integration, not segregation” theme, but as I said—you must look for it) are ripe within the plot.
Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle—belting out “There’s a Light” as black and white alike march through the streets of Baltimore (“I know where I’m going’ cause I know where I’ve been”) gave me definite chills. I just wish the whole show could have done the same.
“Hairspray” is originally based on the 1988 John Waters comedy about star-struck teenagers on a local Baltimore dance show. The new version of the film is based on New Line’s hit Broadway adaptation of the film, which debuted in 2002, and went on to win eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Director. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have contributed new songs to their Tony Award-winning score for their movie version.
You might want to look for cameos by the original film’s Ricki Lake and Pia Zadora. Pfeiffer plays the evil TV station manager to the hilt, and it was good to see her back on screen. Travolta, who plays Edna Turnblad, one must note here, didn’t accept the role only as a chance to be camp, a MAN has always played her part from the beginning.
If you like Musicals with a bizarre twist such as “Little Shop Of Horrors,” then go see “Hairspray” without the kids. If you are looking for a comedy like the original John Waters film or you think John Travolta will dazzle you like he did in “Grease,” then save your money because you will probably be disappointed.
Violence: None / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.