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Saturday, July 21, 2007


ModFab On...Hairspray

Starring Nikki Blonsky, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah, James Marsden, Jerry Stiller, Elijah Kelly, Brittany Snow and Zac Efron
Written by Leslie Dixon
Directed by Adam Shankman
PG - 1 Hour, 47 minutes
Trailer - Soundtrack - Reviews

Has there ever been a movie more determined to please than Hairspray, the day-glo adaptation of the hit stage musical and John Waters' seminal 1988 film? If so, I can't think of one. Here's a film that nearly screams its desire to please in every frame; in its very design, it demands your attention, has you tapping your toes before the opening montage is through, and frames its soft messages of tolerance and diversity so broadly that only Hitler could be a grump while watching.

Is it perfect entertainment? Well, let's not go too far. A sugar-sweet (and paper-thin) gloss on race politics and the challenges of fat women throughout the ages, it's got zero depth and little in the way of drama. Whatever had once been transgressive about Waters' vision of 1960's Baltimore is now a big, shiny, charming hunk of cinematic bubblegum. Complexity? Nuance? Forget about it. But while it's no Cabaret (or even Moulin Rouge), it is undoubtedly the most audience-friendly movie of the year...and that's nothing to get snobbish about, especially when it's executed this well.

If 90% of movie success is casting, then let's give credit for Hairspray where credit is due. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky is thoroughly delightful as Tracy Turnblad, the zaftig spitfire who throws a local TV dance show on its ear; the young cast is surprisingly solid musically and theatrically, especially Elijah Kelly (Heavens Fall) as Seaweed and Amanda Bynes (She's The Man) -- who I've never liked before now -- as Tracy's best friend (and nascent chocolate fan) Penny Pingleton. Among the adults, there are some delicious star turns from Michelle Pfeiffer (as the luxuriously devious Velma Von Tussle), James Marsden (as debonaire Corny Collins) and Queen Latifah, all sass and heart as Motormouth Maybelle. If others disappoint -- most distressingly, John Travolta, who treats the iconic role of Edna as an opportunity to wink broadly at his own movie-musical past -- it doesn't get much in the way of the fun. (Although a quick aside...watching Travolta stumble through his numbers, I must admit that I missed both Divine and Harvey Fierstein, the previous portrayers of Edna Turnblad, very much. The cameos from John Waters and Ricki Lake helped a little bit, though.)

There's also some surprises behind the camera as well. Start with director/choreographer Adam Shankman (Bringing Down The House), who exhibits an extraordinary understanding of this energetic, effervescent material and how to sell it, baby, sell it. Marc Shaiman's music has never sounded lovelier (even if most of the new songs written for the movie seem superfluous and unnecessary). All in all, almost everything that could have gone wrong with Hairspray didn't...and in a summer season where every other blockbuster has been a disappointment, that's enough reason to get up out of your chair and dance.

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