Saturday, December 08, 2007

Hairspray (2007)

John Waters is the king of grotesque, and his 1988 film, “Hairspray” was a vindication for people who didn’t meet contemporary standards of beauty. The film is full of people like Divine, for example, the corpulent, cross-dressing actor who was a staple of Waters’s movies. Divine plays the mother of chubby, dance-crazy Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake), whose smooth dance moves and sparkling personality win her a spot on her favorite dance show and the boy of her dreams. Tracy also takes a public stand against segregation (the story is set in 1960’s Baltimore), introducing mixed-race dancing to television.

That this film got turned into a Broadway musical show is no surprise to me; they’ll make anything into a musical. I did find it somewhat surreal that there is now a movie based on that musical. I’m sure this has happened before, but for me this seems like a pretty original way for Hollywood to avoid making something original. The new “Hairspray” is also a mildly charming, fun-for-the-whole-family bit of entertainment.

The musical version lacks most of the cutting-edge wit that inspired the original movie. The main theme, acceptance of people who are different, is more in-your-face, but less convincingly developed in the musical. That would be okay except that the musical elements aren’t really anything to write home about either. The songs are fun while they last (They got my wife and daughter up dancing around the room.), but I couldn’t remember a single song five minutes after the movie ended. Probably the strongest points in this film are the dancing and the stunt casting (John Travolta in a fat suit as Mrs. Turnblad seems tres bizarre until you remember that the original Mrs. Turnblad was also played by a man in drag.)

If you only see one version of “Hairspray,” then make it the classic original. Once you have seen that, the musical version makes a nice, fluffy companion piece.

3 stars out of 5.

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