Saturday, July 28, 2007


In the last six years, the movie musical has fluctuated from the resurgence to past glory (Moulin Rouge!, Chicago) to overload (Rent, The Phantom of the Opera) to make-it-stop already (The Producers) to okay, maybe one more (Dreamgirls.) Director Adam Shankman's transfer of John Waters's beloved Hairspray is happily, and to my suprise, a step in the right direction. In adapting Waters's 1988 film turned Broadway musical turned movie musical, Shankman uses the right approach-- make it fun and don't try too hard to do too much, and in turn it's a delightful, blissfully non-ironic blast from the past. In the role that made Ricki Lake a star in the 80s and gave Marissa Jaret Winokur a Tony Award, newcomer Nikki Blonsky plays Tracy Turnblad, fond of "The Corny Collins Show," dancing and integration. Tracy has always been the heart of Hairspray, and Blonsky gives her the right note of chipperness and charm. The proud and chubby daughter of Wilbur and Edna Turnblad (Christopher Walken and John Travolta), Tracy was always the purest of Waters's characters in his tamest sideshow. Travolta, in the role immortalized by Divine, Waters's muse, was always the oddest choice on paper here, but despite some of the problems (mostly a strange and ill-fitting accent) that never lift the performance from the sidelines, Travolta underlines his\her Edna with sweetness and it's great to see him dance once again. The story is pretty simple-- Tracy longs to dance on "The Corny Collins Show." and snog with local star Link Larkin (Zac Effron); along the way she finds substance in breaking the barriers of segregation, while showing off villainy station manage Velma von Tussle (a wonderfully fiendish Michelle Pfieffer), and her bratty daughter, Amber (Brittany Snow.) What makes Hairspray special is it's sense of fun and play, while simultaneously debunking the low expectations one might have about a musical adaptation from an artistically challenged director (Shankman previously directed Bringing Down the House and The Pacificer after all.) The performances are period spot-on and overall terrific as well. As Corny Collins, James Marsden nails the period's put on a happy face, Dick Clark role, and proves himself a terrific singer as well. Queen Latifah is splendid as Motormouth Maybelle, and her rendition of "Bring on that Pecan Pie," is as funny as it is soulful. Christopher Walken proves a charming song-and-dance man in a role, really only he could play. Youngins Amanda Bynes, Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelly and Effron are good as well. So brava to Mr. Shankman for concocting the happiest movie of the summer, and proving me wrong. GRADE: B+

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