**** (out of 5)
July 20, 2007
Nikki Blonsky as TRACY TURNBLAD
John Travolta as EDNA TURNBLAD
Michelle Pfeiffer as VELMA VON TUSSLE
Christopher Walken as WILBUR TURNBLAD
Amanda Bynes as PENNY PINGLETON
James Marsden as CORNY COLLINS
Queen Latifah as MOTORMOUTH MAYBELLE
Brittany Snow as AMBER VON TUSSLE
Zac Efron as LINK LARKIN
Studio: New Line Cinema
Directed by: Adam Shankman
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I was once interviewing Eric Idle about the musical “Spamalot,” and I joked to him asking if he thinks they’ll ever make a movie out of it. Idle chuckled and said, “I guess that’s the way they do it.” Back then, it was a joke, because it just seemed silly to bounce a story back and forth from stage to screen like that.
Not today. First, “The Producers” went from a classic film to a smash hit on Broadway before being made into a movie again, and I hear that Eric Idle is currently adapting “Spamalot” for the cinema. Now, we have “Hairspray” to deal with. And I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Not only was I tired of movies-turned-musicals-turned-movies, but I was already having fever dream nightmares of John Travolta in a fat suit and drag. So I arrived at the screening of “Hairspray” in a crummy mood. However, as much as I tried to pick the movie apart, by the end, I was tapping my feet, giggling at the jokes and smiling like a fool.
If that isn’t a recommendation for what is sure to be the feel good movie of 2007, I don’t know what is.
Based on the musical based on John Waters’ original 1988 film, “Hairspray” follows teenager Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) in 1962 Baltimore. Tracy’s dream is to be on the Corny Collins dance show, and despite being a bit overweight, she lands a spot as a dancer. However, once on the show, she sees the dark side of racial inequalities and segregation.
Tracy, with the help of her friends at school, starts a movement to integrate the dance show. Of course, the Baltimore elite won’t have it, and things escalate to a full social movement.
I have been a fan of John Waters for years, and I count “Hairspray” as one of my favorites of his films. This reinventing of the story holds true to the spirit and flavor of the original film, which is surprisingly wholesome for John Waters. Still, until they make “Pink Flamingos: The Musical,” we won’t fully realize John Waters’ talents on Broadway, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that.
“Hairspray” is easily one of the best stage musical adaptations to come down the pike since “Chicago.” It’s got an awful lot of heart and charm. In fact, the only stumbling block is the gross miscasting of John Travolta. His bad Carol Channing impersonation and soulless delivery sours the character that Divine made famous.
I guess it’s Hollywood’s cross to bear that they want to always have that big name in the opening credits. Travolta isn’t a terrible actor; he’s just unmistakably wrong for the role. I wish they would have dipped into the drag queen community to find someone to pay homage to Divine, or at least tossed some money at Harvey Fierstein who won a Tony for the role on Broadway.
But don’t let Travolta keep you from this movie. In spite of him, the film is a hit. The rest of the cast is brilliant, led by newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who is far more adorable than Ricki Lake was in the original film. If she can keep her head on her shoulders, she’s gonna have a great career ahead of her.
I’ve been disappointed with the musicals that have hit the screen in recent years, but if “Hairspray” is a sign of things to come, I am looking forward to more. Maybe that “Spamalot” film won’t be s bad after all.