2007, PG, 117 min. Directed by Adam Shankman. Starring John Travolta, Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelley, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brittany Snow, James Marsden.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 20, 2007

If ever there were a happy summer movie, it’s Hairspray. But for all its bubbly musical numbers and effervescent good humor, this film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical feels oddly lacquered – it’s John Waters by way of Disney. Hairspray adheres closely to the storyline in Waters’ 1988 cult film: A pleasantly plump teenager, Tracy Turnblad, becomes the unexpected star on a segregated Baltimore dance show circa 1962 – but its gee-whiz homogenization of adolescent sexual desire and racial politics is from another movie. Decidedly tame by Waters’ usual standards, the original Hairspray was nostalgic without being saccharine. While there’s nothing offensive about the wholesomeness of this new Hairspray, you wish that it didn’t feel as if every hair were in place. Even the very white villains in the piece, ice queen Velma Von Tussel and her bratty daughter, Amber, are more annoying than deliciously nasty in their hatred of overweight and black people. Marc Shaiman’s infectious (albeit repetitive) Tony-winning score keeps things moving at a lively pace, but many of the plot points get glossed over in the process. For example, Tracy’s rise to stardom on the Corny Collins Show literally happens overnight, and her budding romance with heartthrob Link (Efron) never jells as believable. Of course, comparisons between the female leads in Waters’ original film and this version are inevitable. As Tracy, Blonsky looks the part and can sing up a storm, but she lacks the spunk of perky Ricki Lake, who really made you believe that big was beautiful. Travolta has some pretty large shoes to fill in the role of Tracy’s hefty mother, Edna, given that the late and great Divine made the part her own as only she could. A frazzled hausfrau with a hint of drag queen, Divine didn’t so much act the part as she did posture in it, but that approach to the role seemed fitting in Waters’ vision of Sixties angst. A heavily made-up Travolta aims for a more realistic portrayal, and it works for the most part. There’s sadness in this insecure woman, who’s so ashamed of her plus-size appearance that she won’t leave the house. And when Edna finally lets loose in the film’s finale, there’s a joy onscreen that rocks the house. Who ever thought someone in a fat suit could be so nimble and full of life?

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Hairspray, Adam Shankman, John Travolta, Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelley, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brittany Snow, James Marsden

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