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IN SHORT: Travolta is Divine. [Rated PG for language, some suggestive content and momentary teen smoking. 117 minutes]
Cranky admits that I really don't care much for musicals. That goes way back to high school days, when musicals usually meant songs dropped into dramas willy nilly. The songs written for musicals considered "classics" in those days were based on musical styles that bored the you-can-guess-what out of the hard core rock and roll animal that our younger self professed to be. As we aged we became more tolerant and yet here comes Hairspray, with all the good intentions of being a lightweight "fun" musical whose plethora of songs overwhelm what otherwise is a very funny story. Some judicious song elimination, or at least some *editing* would have made our sit easier. But that's just us. If you adore musicals, in general, you should love Hairspray!
And, despite that last sentence we can't get the film's finale "Can't Stop the Beat" song out of our head. It would be annoyiung if it wasn't the only song in the thing we actually liked <vbg>
For those under the age of, oh, forty or so, once upon a time television had live dance programs on the air, American Bandstand with Dick Clark on Saturday afternoons and Don Cornelius' Soul Train in syndication at various times (old shows still run here in New York, very late on Saturday night). In the earlier days of things like Bandstand, all the dancers were known to the audience on a first name basis, as were their personal lives -- who was dating who on the show. Who was hot for who on the show. Who was breaking up with who on the show and so on and so forth. Viewers hung on every social turnabout. Hairspray's equivalent to Bandstand , the Corky Collins Show, is set in Baltimore and, for reasons necessary to drive the story, the dancers on the show seem to be classmates of all the school kids who yearn to be them.
We're getting ahead of the story, which centers on a family called Turnblad. Overweight and very shy and insecure, loving mother Edna (John Travolta) is married to Wilbur (Christopher Walken) a seller of toy novelties They have an overweight daughter named Tracy (Nikki Blonsky), a peppy chubby whose fantasy life revolves around the kid dancers on the Corny Collins show. Tracy's own fantasies center on a skinny, acne-free but nonetheless greasy skinned boy called Link Larkin (Zac Efron) who she watches dance every day on The Corny Collins Show.
Being May 1962, the locally produced The Corny Collins Show is segregated , with the very clean Corny Collins (James Marsden) keeping the white kids and their wholesome pop music dancing separately from the colored kids -- that was the "polite" adjective of 1962, folks. To demonstrate its enlightened status, once a month the show has a 100% "Negro day," so that the colored community can get their own train running, dancing to their own "race music" emceed by the blonde wigged Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) and featuring her "Maybelle Store Dancers". As for Corny, the one time the film shows white kids and black kids dancing to the same music at the same time, the dance floor has each racial demographic roped off from each other. That bit of "accepted" discrimination will drive a subplot of the story, culminating in a Third Act twist (sic) we will not reveal.
Back to Link. Tracy dreams that her only chance to catch Link's eye is to win an open audition for new dancers on the show. Tracy may think that she has a chance but, c'mon, she's a porker! and Station Manager Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), a physical knockout herself, is not about to let anyone but a slim attractive white person on the show. Specifically, her own daughter Amber von Tussle (Brittany Snow). Velma doesn't think twice about tossing her weight around to help build the career of her star-in-training daughter, and is bringing in a William Morris agent (Ricki Lake, the original Tracy, gets her cameo here) for the all star spectacular that will end Corny's season. Thus, the big search for new blood for the dance floor.
When Tracy doesn't make the cut, she is crushed, crushed I tell you . . . but that bit of emotional devastation doesn't last all that long, as Link -- THE MAN HIMSELF -- invites our hefty heroine to join him on the dance floor the next day. So goes Hairspray, and any description of what comes next in this film will not come from us. We had gone terminal by this point.
Instead, let us talk about the good parts, and those begin with a cameo appearance by John Waters early in the run time. It's rude and it's funny and unless you recognize the man you probably won't get why the audience of know-it-alls is laughing heartily. Now you do. Let us also commend first timer Blonsky who is quite good in her part, holding her own against seasoned pros like Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken and John Travolta. JT is very good in drag -- it's a role of honor in any Waters or Waters-based work, you know -- though director Adam Shankman drops the ball, in our very humble opinion, with what he has Travolta do at the very, very end of the film. If you're a fan of the man, you'll figure it out. If not, you won't miss anything. Cranky falls into the former category. We were so terminally disinterested after the endless epic song which begins the film that almost nothing could have saved the thing for us. Not that the film didn't try -- the non musical book is very, very funny and held our attention even when the music waged its all out attack on our senses.On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Hairspray, he would have paid . . .
Music aside, all else leaves Hairspray as a better than OK dateflick.
If you actually find yourself liking the overabundance of music, add
two bucks and save yourself the effort of writing to tell us how dumb
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