Hairspray: hip or hype?


The other movie I saw the opening weekend for Hairspray was Hairspray. (I did a review of “License to Wed” earlier–sorry it’s a little behind. Maybe it’s not even still playing?)

First, I admit, I love the movie musical. I don’t know that I’d own “The Producers,” either original or updated, but I remember laugh a minute gags and songs I wanted to sing after seeing it. I felt the same way watching “Moulin Rouge” for the first time, and “Phantom” and “Evita” and “Chicago” and a few others that I’ll spare the geek-o-meters for now. It’s likely because I grew up watching musicals on video and on stage with my family–even my grandma did the community musical thing–so I’ll always have a special place in my heart for anything with a musical soundtrack.

Add to the movie-musical a few lyrics that would be read as offensive or racist if I republished them here, but meant in a sarcastic way when in the context of a film about integration and being an outcast teenager who just wants to dance on an after school TV show in 1960s Baltimore, and I’m in love.

Seriously. Who wouldn’t like a movie based on a musical based on a movie where the original movie’s director, John Waters (which you hopefully already knew) has a cameo as the neighborhood flasher in the first few minutes. It’s also not a candy-coated Baltimore–rats and trash in the streets, laundry hanging up in backyards, and even uglier, visible racism in many forms. But the bright, bold, over the top colors and designs of the costumes and sets for the fake TV show make up for that many times over.

I don’t remember the original–it’s probably been about five or 10 years since I’ve seen it–and I never saw the musical on stage (but I definitely want to see both versions again and for the first time), but it didn’t seem to matter because the actors made the characters their own. The unknown Nikki Blonsky must have done Ricki Lake proud as Tracy Turnblad, who Lake played in the original (Lake was also played a talent agent in the new version). John Travolta dons a fat suit to play Tracy’s mom, Edna, and Christopher Walken dances like a dream in his scenes as Tracy’s dad and jokeshop owner, Wilbur.

Then there’s teenybopper turned actress I can actually stand, Amanda Bynes, playing Tracy’s BFF Penny. Recognizable but at first unplaceable Brittany Snow from “American Dreams,” which also had an after school dance TV show and was set in the 1960s, plays Tracy’s rival, Amber.

So see it now if you like any of the above and you will be singing and dancing in the street on the way to the parking lot. Or if you’re like me, you’ll laugh out loud at just about every lyric, even the ones that might make you uncomfortable. Because isn’t that what going to the movies is really all about? Laughing when no one else gets it but still laughing on the way out of the theatre because the line was set to unforgettable music?