Saturday, March 30, 2013

Movie Review: Hairspray (2007)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Mostly great acting, fun singing and dancing, good message
Cons: John Travolta's Edna, innuendo, slurs, story feels slightly chopped
The Bottom Line:
There are fun moments
Outweighed by un-fun moments
Average result

"What Gets Girls Asked Out on Dates?  It's Hairspray!"

I have always loved musicals. I realize that people spontaneously singing and dancing isn't even remotely realistic. But I don't care. Naturally, I'm thrilled to see the movie musical making a comeback.

And that's why I was interested in seeing Hairspray. But I had reservations, too. I finally broke down and watched it. In the end, it was about what I expected it to be.

Our story opens in 1962 Baltimore. Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is a high school student with a passion to dance. Every day, she rushes home from school with her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) to watch The Corny Collins Show. On it, a group of teens dance to the latest hits.

When the show has an open casting call for a new dancer (one of the regulars is going to be gone for about nine months), Tracy wants to go audition. Her mother Edna (John Travolta) is against it. See, Tracy is a plus size girl, and Edna is an even bigger woman. Edna hides in the house because of her size and fears the rejection could crush Tracy.

Tracy does get rejected at first, but a second chance gets her a part on the show. She's an instant hit and her star power rises.

This doesn't sit well with Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer). Velma is in charge of the show, and uses her power to build a career for her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow).

Even more dangerous, Tracy has some ideas about the once monthly Negro Day. She thinks that instead of being the last Tuesday of the month, it should be every day. Is this a good cause? Can Tracy's new found star power help with integration? Or will the show stay segregated?

Obviously, the movie has a serious message, but it is never preachy. It never forgets its first mission is to entertain us. And it is very entertaining.

The movie is filled with songs. In fact, I bet there is as much if not more singing then dialog in the film. All the songs feel like 60's pop. Most of them are light and bouncy. I found myself nodding my head and tapping my feet quite often during the film.

Along with the singing comes the choreography, which is also great. Several of the songs take place on the set of The Corny Collins Show, but even then, they find ways to expand the dance beyond the stage. And the songs that aren't part of the show feature some great locations and dancing.

Then comes the acting. As you'd expect from an all star cast, the acting is great with one exception. In addition to the stars already named, we've got James Marsden as Corny Collins, Queen Latifah as the hostess of Negro Day, Zac Efron as Tracy's crush Link Larkin, and Christopher Walken as Tracy's dad. And we can't forget the cameos by Jerry Stiller and Ricki Lake who starred in the original. Nikki Blonsky is absolutely perfect as Tracy. She's got the right mix of optimism, perkiness, and realism to pull off the part. Amanda Bynes is funny as her friend. She makes the most of a small part and almost steals a scene or two.

So what was the bad? Let's start with the one cast member who didn't do a good job. I know it's a tradition of this musical that Edna is played by a cross dressing man. But I'm sorry, I just never bought John Travolta as a woman. He tried too hard to be feminine. Or maybe he was going for over the top. Either way, every time he was on screen he was annoying. Like fingernails on chalkboard annoying.

Then there's the hypocrite. One of the characters is a bigoted Bible thumper. Fortunately, she's a minor character, but you can bet how well that went over with this Christian.

Additionally, the movie skips around just a little too much. I actually felt like the movie could have been a little longer. Throw in a couple added scenes to better develop the characters and story. I know today's audiences don't have the patience to sit down and watch the epic musicals of yesteryear, but just under two hours is too short for a musical. I'd suggest they cut a song to add to the story, but I'm not sure which one should have gone. Either way, I felt like a piece of the story was missing.

Finally, there are the sexual innuendos and racial slurs. I'm willing to let the movie off on the racial slurs since they are perfectly acceptable for the time. But the innuendos really bothered me. Why? Because they felt out of place, especially when said on the squeaky clean TV show. The movie definitely would have been stronger if they'd been taken out.

In the end, Hairspray is a mixed basket. Its fun with mostly great acting, but the flaws are fairly serious.

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