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HAIRSPRAY – Exuberant filmmaking at its best

Starring: John Travolta, Amanda Byrnes, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Adam Shankman
Rated: PG

IN 1988, John Waters’ Hairspray was an exuberant comedy that tickled the funnybone of most audiences, delved into the gauche days of the early 60s and live television programs as well as raising some serious social issues.

 

Waters used his home town of Baltimore as the setting for the average American city.

Then came a musical version with music by Marc Shaiman and it proved to be a great success on Broadway and has begun to travel.

 

In the meantime, here is a happy film version of the musical. Exuberant would be something of an understatement.

We are back in Baltimore 1962 (with a lively song about the city to open the show) and being introduced to Nikki Blonsky as high school student, Tracy Turnblad, like the little teapot, short and stout, but not really minding it a bit. She loves life.

 

And her dream is to dance on the local Corny Collins Show, twisting, bumping and grinding in a pre-Grease kind of way.

School is spent getting into trouble from cantankerous teachers and being sent to detention where she meets the black students, all dancing, and welcoming her to their moves.

 

And then it is home with her best friend, Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) to watch, cheer and dance in front of the TV, which is fine except that Penny’s puritanical mother (Allison Janney) definitely does not approve.

Tracy is lucky to have a nice and rather large mother who does local laundry and ironing and has not been out of the house, due to embarrassment at her size and her love of eating, for more than ten years.

She is an encouragement to her daughter.

 

Her nice and quiet father runs a novelty shop downstairs.

Much has been made of the fact that John Travolta plays Edna Turnblad in a fat suit – and he does it particularly well, relying on his own voice, but bringing a modest niceness to his performance and getting the chance to dance again, especially with that best of actor-dancers, Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad. (Even more dancing with them would have been welcome).

Meanwhile at the TV station, steely blonde manager Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is pushing her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow) to be the Dancing Queen, pressurising the all-smiling, all-singing and dancing Corny Collins (James Marsden doing a surprisingly agreeable turn).

Zac Efron is Link, the star dancer on the show, who falls for Tracy.

There are some nice cameos from John Waters as a flasher, Jerry Stiller, the original Wilbur, as a shop manager and Rikky Lake (the original Tracy – who then went on to host her talk show) as an agent, along with Adam Shankman, the choreographer who directed the film.

We know where the plot is going.

It’s the enjoyment of seeing how it gets there, especially as Tracy teams up with the blacks who are allowed to have a day a month on the show as Negro Day, under the compering of Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah).

Some funny situations and protest marches remind us that these were serious days for civil rights and race relationships.

 

Plenty of songs, plenty of lively twisting dancing, genial characters and snarly villains. Indeed a happy show.

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