Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hairspray: big hair, big heart, big laughs, big talent

The film adaptation of Hairspray delivers the same message as the Broadway musical adaptation: prejudice against people who are of a different color, or size, is wrong. But the movie also drives home this additional message: no one in Hollywood, or on the face of the planet, can shake his groove thang in a fat suit and drag (complete with heels) like John Travolta can.

Travolta's super-sized, stellar performance as the mother of Hairspray's heroine Tracy Turnblad was solid gold, and one of many superb performances from the cast. The younger actors all brought great energy and joie de vivre to the movie, from vivacious newcomer Nicole Blonsky as dancing discovery Tracy, the big girl with the big heart; to teen heartthrob Zac Efron of High School Musical fame, who looks better (and is easier to take seriously) with black hair rather than surfer-dude blond; to perpetually perky Amanda Bynes, whom I much prefer playing a more low-key second fiddle; to American Dreams' Brittany Snow, showing off some surprisingly impressive bitchy/bratty acting chops as well as some fluid dance moves; to the amazing, erstwhile unknown Elijah Kelley, easily the smoothest and most skilled dancer of the lot.

But for me, the true joys of this buoyant musical were the older, but by no means less animated, members of the cast. MILF-of-the-moment Michelle Pfeiffer was glacially sultry and age-defyingly gorgeous as station manager/stage mother/villainess Velma von Tussle, and displayed a delightful flair for comedy I never knew she had. Queen Latifah exuded regal grace (pun intended) and matriarchal warmth as Motormouth Maybelle, and her soulful solo "I Know Where I've Been" was one of the most moving moments of the movie (Jennifer Hudson who?). And the always, always magnificent Christopher Walken was adorably goofy and sweet-- yes, Christopher Walken, sweet!-- as Tracy's dorky, doting father. For those who don't know,
Walken is actually a trained dancer (anyone remember this?), and my absolute favorite scene was his duet with Travolta, "Timeless to Me", where both got to exercise their dancing muscles... not to mention their acting muscles, capably convincing the audience they're a married couple who's very much in love. Walken and Travolta, all lovey-dovey. Priceless.

Oh, and I have to make special mention of James Marsden. I once thought he was making a career out of playing the wimpy guy who always loses the girl to the leading man (see my review of Superman). I totally forgot about the musical talents he had exhibited on the one season he was part of the cast of Ally McBeal. He used those talents to full effect in this movie as the toothy, slick host of the eponymous Corny Collins Show. I give him props for playing his part to pomaded perfection, and I hope I never have to diss him again (stop accepting those wussy roles man!).

With its soaring Broadway songs, rambunctious spot-on choreography, colorful 60s-style sets, spiffy retro costumes (AND stiff retro hairdos), plus a cast that makes everyone on Dancing with the Stars seem like they all have two left feet,
Hairspray is one happy, happy movie. The stuff that comes in aerosol cans may give hair a lift, but Hairspray the movie will definitely lift your spirits.


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