Teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) has a dream, and that is to join a group of hip teenagers in a dance programme on television called the Corny Collins (James Marsden) Show, especially when she has a crush on the show's heartthrob Link (Zac Efron). But as you know, despite being pleasant, blessed with a good voice and groove, possessing a wonderful never-say-die attitude and positive demeanour, television's all about glamour, and being plump means she's out of place, especially for TV producer Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) who sees her as a constant thorn undermining her and her engineered-for-success daughter Amber (Brittany Snow).
Given the loads of song, dance, music that you can shake your booty too, Hairspray is right up my alley. I can't seem to recall having seen the original 1988 movie (though the songs do ring familiar), nor watched the musical, but I guess it doesn't matter unless you want to be picky and start comparing. On its own, Hairspray has all the ingredients that continues the now-tapering tradition of Hollywood made musicals, with a surprisingly star studded cast who seem to get ample time to showcase both their dancing feet and vocal prowess. And to sum it up, it's almost perfect as an entertaining musical.
But what worked into this breezy light hearted film, are serious themes on race relations and society's obsession with being thin. Hairspray's set in the 60s, where segregation in American society still reared its ugly head, where in a television programme, white folks don't mix with "coloured folks", and in a seemingly progressive move, a "Negro Day" is set aside in the programme schedule for non-Whites to perform in. Tracy Tumbald, as a character, seeks in her earnestness to break down those barriers, of course with tacit support from Corny Collins (who though may seem is doing it for the ratings?). Being sentenced to detention class also made it quite clear that Tracy's one of the rare white folk who gets sent, though her interactions with the RnB hip hoppers, proved to be fruitful. And weight obsession provided for some cheap laughs in the beginning, slowly made way to acceptance, and hey, girl power, whatever size they may be.
Much has been said about John Travolta's comeback to the musical genre after his ever successful 1978 musical Grease, as Danny Zuko. Here, Travolta dons a fat suit and gets casted in the opposite sex as Tracy's mom Edna, and I think he did a great job, still showing he has the moves and the singing voice, despite it being almost 30 years coming back to the genre. While the novelty of donning the fat suit isn't new, it's still Travolta, and there are moments when you'll cringe, especially when husband Wilbur Turnblad (Christopher Walken) gets all lovey-dovey with her. Walken is fantastic as well, despite the relatively short screen time, singing and dancing (he did the music video for Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice) opposite Travolta and Grease (2 actually, and Batman Returns) alumni Michelle Pfeiffer.
It's been a while since we last saw Pfeiffer on screen, and this year we see her taking on two roles (including this one) where she plays the antagonist (the other movie being Stardust). She still looks great though, despite her age, and wearing that red slinky dress, brings back memories of her heating up the screen with her sultry moves and singing voice way back in the Fabulous Baker Boys. Screen daughter Brittany Snow (John Tucker Must Die) does a complete evil-Barbie role here, while Amanda Bynes was a hoot as the wide eyed and naive in the cute and ditzy dumb role of Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton, who actually goes against the grain (of the times) with her inter-racial romance.
Rounding up the cast of notables include Queen Latifah and Elijah Kelly, but in a real act of reel emulating real, or real emulating reel, the discovery and coup casting will be newcomer Nikki Blonsky. Somehow she exudes this lovable charisma that you can't help but fall in love with her and her character. She bursts into the movie full of energy, just like her character did, and Hairspray provided the perfect platform for her to showcase her singing and dance talent. To sum up in two simple words, "she rocks", and her chemistry with Travolta as daughter-err-mother, was simply irresistible.
Hairspray's full of wacky fun despite its tackling of serious themes, has memorable songs and great chemistry amongst the cast, who look like they all had a good time making this musical. And it's a very enjoyable movie where you feel plenty of positivity exuding when the end credits start to roll. Highly recommended, one of the best musicals to have come out of Hollywood in recent years!
Useless fact #542: A number of the cast here have done a superhero movie. John Travolta was in Punisher, Christopher Walken and Michelle Pfeiffer tangoed with each other in Batman Returns, and James Marsden was in the X-Men trilogy.