Reel Rewind – Hairspray

Hairspray (M)

Directed by: Adam Shankman

Starring: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Nikki Blonsky

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

While you are bopping along to this infectious remake of the 1987 cult classic, it is hard not to be distracted by John Travolta in drag as a dowdy housewife. It isn’t the first time a man has dressed as a woman for a film role, but few of the actors game enough to don a dress have looked so ugly. No offence Travolta, but you just don’t make an attractive woman. Luckily, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a toe-tappin’, finger snapping, put a smile on your dial film.

It is 1962 in Baltimore and chirpy, big-haired, overweight teen Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) loves to sing and dance and dreams of becoming a star. Tracy and her friend Penny (Amanda Bynes) watch the Corny Collins Show everyday after school – despite their parents’ objections – and swoon over the spunky host (James Marsden). When one of the dance troops on the show leaves, auditions are held and Tracy tries out in hopes of fulfilling her dream of appearing on the pop dance show. Against station manager Velma Von Tussle’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) wishes, Tracy is chosen.

Von Tussle is a bitchy ex-beauty queen who wants her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow) to win the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition. This becomes increasingly unlikely when Tracy becomes the flavour of the town, spawning her own line of dolls, clothes and wigs. When Tracy discovers the black kids are only permitted to dance on the show once a month, she makes it her mission to make every day Negro Day. This doesn’t sit well with Von Tussle, who is convinced it will cause ratings to plummet.

Choreographer Adam Shankman had no experience as a director when he was handed the reins for the 2001 Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Wedding Planner. His films since have been box office successes, but forgettable light weight popcorn flicks. This film seems to be the one he was born to make. Shankman has an apparent respect and affection for the material and his experience in choreography comes in handy in making a pleasant and watchable film-going experience.

Nikki Blonsky, making her film debut as Tracy, has deservedly received plenty of attention for her bubbly and confident performance. Her self-confidence is inspiring to young girls. Despite his disturbing makeover, John Travolta is a hoot and Michelle Pfeiffer (who has been absent from the big screen for far too long) makes a welcome return as the TV station ice queen.

There are some poignant relationships in this film, most notably between mother and daughter. Tracy helps her mum come out of her shell, and from behind her ironing board, to enjoy life. Not only does this film have catchy tunes and fun dance sequences, the political and social subplot gives the film a bit of weight and a slight edge to it.

The struggle the black community face to be recognised as equal to white people is a heavy issue, but is tastefully handled by Shankman. The film is a bit too long with some flabby sequences and it probably won’t become a classic like the original – or the other period musical Grease – but it will ensure a fun time at the flicks.

As appeared in Examiner Newspapers, 2007

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