I don't know what all the fuss is about. Lots of folks are raving about Hairspray. It received a 93 percent favorable rating from critics, compiled on Rottentomatoes.com. And audiences are dancing up to the candy counter for Mashed Potatoes.
Hairspray is an energetic romp, but as a social statement -- which it pretends to be -- it's cartoonish. And as a playful look back at a time and place, it's simplistic shtik. It's a mountain of whipped cream, with an occasional chocolate sprinkle. It's a bloated, silly movie.
Hairspray is political hogwash -- it's like a musical designed by Karl Rove. It should be set in Pleasantville, and acted by an earnest dinner theatre
troupe. It's all happy noise. Everything is overdone and blatant.
One might protest that it's only a musical, not political. Well, so were our last two presidential campaigns.
It may be anachronistic to ask for a little truth in a movie about the human condition, musical or not. But so be it.
The moral of Hairspray is: Eat a lot and racism disappears. Sounds like a plan. Eat a doughnut, Hillary.
In Hairspray, everything -- I mean EVERYTHING -- works out. All is solved with little or no pain. It's like getting pregnant by John Waters, and the next day the stork brings the baby -- an overweight cherub.
Racism. Check. Teenage angst. Check. Parental stupidity. Check. Young love. Check. Baltimore. Check.
Yeah, Baltimore was the seat of understanding. I grew up in Philadelphia, and we always went down to Baltimore for crabs and liberation. Sure, we did.
Hairspray has a unique history. It was first made into a movie comedy in 1988 by John Waters, who wrote and directed it. In 2002 Hairspray became a Broadway musical, with songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. In 2007 Hairspray is a movie musical directed by Adam Shankman, who did The Wedding Crasher and Cheaper by the Dozen 2.
Waters, who once was a provocative celebrity, is now a cute cameo in the musical, playing a flasher. Another success story.
Hairspray is about Tracy Turnblat (Nikki Blonsky), a teenage girl in Baltimore, whose dream is to dance on the Corky Collins television show. On the way to that goal, she brings racial understanding to the western world.
Tracy is pleasingly plump, her mom is pleasingly plump, her dad is pleasingly loyal. Her best friend is pleasingly supportive, the lad she is smitten with is pleasingly approachable, the TV emcee is pleasingly open, her detention buddy is pleasingly generous, and his mom is pleasingly something-or-other.
It's a hell of pleasingness. It's a world desperate for the Rolling Stones. Instead we get the Rolling Cliches. Where is Sympathy for the Devil when we need it?
The cast does its best in the orgy of pleasantness. Nikki Blonsky is a force as Tracy, the bowling ball of understanding. Blonsky has a strong voice and an
intrepid demeanor, but her role is so outrageous it leaves no room for anything but all-out spunk.
Richard Beymer (West Side Story) no longer is the most ridiculous musical mouthpiece for freedom. Blonsky outspunks him. His toothsome smile is long gone and forgotten. There is a new smiler in town.
John Travolta, in a well-publicized role, is fine as Edna Turnblad, Tracy's mother. He seems to have a good time preening and mumbling.
Michelle Pfeiffer, as the TV producer, has few delicious catty moments, but most of the time she's stuck in a litter box.
Allison Janney, as a Catholic mom, is totally trapped in a thankless role that ends in an absurd pratfall. That role deserves a lot of confession.
Another terminal-smiler in the cast is Elijah Kelley who grins and dances his way through detention, showing that detention is a place for dancing and racial understanding. Obviously The Blackboard Jungle got it wrong.
Queen Latifah has a one-dimensional role as the co-host of "Negro Day" on TV. She brings niceness to activism. That'll work.
Brittany Snow, as Amber, Amanda Bynes, as Penny and James Marsden as Corky Collins do well in limited roles. Teen heartthrob Zac Efron plays Tracy's love interest. They finally kiss. Yeah, they do. It's right there in the script. It might happen -- on Mars.
The only rare moments of credibility are provided by Christopher Walken, as Tracy's dad Wilbur, who runs a novelty store and lovingly handles the silly novelty items. Walken is wonderful. While all the others are following the bouncing ball of Blonsky, he's jiving to a different drummer. He even survives a whoopee cushion scene. But all the other characters are cooked in a stew of perfume.
Director Adam Shankman aerosal bombs the screen to cover up even the faintest trace of reality. The mind-altering fumes may have reached the audience.
I don't mind fat-suit comedy, but I don't like fathead musicals.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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