U.S. Release Date:
July 20, 2007
Distributor: New Line
Director: Adam Shankman
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Producer: Jennifer Gibgot (executive), Neil Meron, Marc Shaiman (executive), Craig Zadan
Composer: Marc Shaiman
Cast: Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, Brittany Snow, Zac Efron
Running Time: 1 hour and 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (language, some suggestive content and momentary teen smoking)
Light as a feather, unrelenting and infectious, Hairspray is an exhausting ensemble vehicle with ample rewards. Great tunes and emotional depth are not among them, but this remake (I did not see previous incarnations) has enough highly charged numbers for a hundred high school musicals.
The plot, a fat girl's (bubbly Nikki Blonsky) enthusiasm for rock-n-roll dancing sparks a city's acceptance of blacks, is barely there—it veers into parody—and the gist that idealism and fun are compatible is as thoughtful as the do-wop-diddy-wop soundtrack. But everyone's hitting their marks and having a blast.
Tapping early Sixties optimism in pre-desegregation Baltimore by way of a television pop program hosted by Corny Collins (James Marsden), the chunky high school girl bops, bumps and bounces, trying to catch the eye of a teenaged crush named Link (Zac Efron). Archvillainess Michelle Pfeiffer, laying it on as thick as a handful of Dippity-Do, has something else in mind: disqualify the chubby girl in favor of her daughter and nix the show's token Negro night.
Jerry Stiller, Queen Latifah and Christopher Walken join the silly proceedings, which are capped, somewhat curiously, by John Travolta in drag as the heavy kid's obese mom. It's not that the gimmick does not work—his gestures are fine—as much as it's unnecessary; this is less campy than frivolous. Any movie that portrays Walken as giddy is at least unusual.
Yet director Adam Shankman plays it pretty straight from top to bottom, which is partly refreshing, partly disappointing, with something for virtually everyone. The overproduced songs are performed by an attractive, smiling cast—Marsden nails his moves and has the pipes for an album of his own and Elijah Kelley as Seaweed is a bundle of energy—and choreographer Shankman directs lively routines.
Everyone's on cue, a credit to Shankman, who dips the whole picture in bright colors and a gorgeous cast—the lead singer of the Dynamites is a real babe—and he cranks up the cheerful music. Among the standout numbers is "New Girl in Town."
Though there's plenty of poof in this 'do, there's not a lot of anything else, and the racial equality thread is mixed, alternately placating blacks and polishing the movie off with a dance contest finish that feels forced. Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle looks more like something out of the drug-induced late Sixties than the decade's innocent early years, and adorable Amanda Bynes is miscast as pigtailed Penny Pingleton, who falls for Seaweed.
Watching Hairspray is like waiting for the bell to ring in the last class before summer vacation—there's an extended sense of anticipation of something brighter, and, yes, more jubilant, than the daily grind. While it sometimes seems like everyone knows lyrics you can't quite make out, that doesn't mean this mainstreamed, less biting version of John Waters' nod to being different—with its welcome embrace of interracial sex—isn't a whole can of a good time.
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