DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: HAIRSPRAY

Tuesday 20 November 2007


Hairspray (2007) dir. Adam Shankman
Starring: Nikky Blonsky, Michelle Pfieffer, John Travolta, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelly, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah


I can’t help compare “Hairspray” to its most recent closest cousins “Chicago” and “Dreamgirls”. It’s my third and least favourite. It’s a bumblegum musical with a softy message about image and race discrimination. The film would fall apart if not for Nikki Blonsky who holds the film together with her spunky performance.

I haven’t seen the John Waters version so the review of the film will stand on its own, without any preconceptions.

Tracey Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is an overweight Baltimore high school student who, like every other teenager in the town, dreams of being on the local music variety show ‘The Corny Collins Show”. When the show announces its holding auditions for a new member of the troupe Nikki is excited. She is accidentally discovered and is cast in the show much to the dismay of her mother (John Travolta in drag) and the evil music choreographer Velma Van Tussle (Michelle Pfieffer). While performing on the show she discovers some mistreatment of the black dancers, who are segregated and relegated to an episode once a week – dubbed ‘Negro Day’. Tracey works with one of the black dancers, Seaweed (Elijah Kelley) to integrate the show and make life better for all.

The film, which takes place in the early 1960’s, has a time and place naiveté to it. When they refer to ‘Negro Day’ it’s a point of comedy considering how ridiculous such a thing sounds. The dramatic counterpoint is that indeed, those attitudes were commonplace and accepted back in the day. Another interesting aspect that Tracey’s weight is never mocked. It’s taken for granted, and though the stuck up choreographer Velma Van Tussle loathes Tracey’s addition to the show, weight is not overtly referenced. Therefore we get past the crude fat jokes without ever bringing it up. Thank God.

As for the music and dance numbers, Nikki is a little pinball of energy and she looks like a hell of a lot of fun to dance with. She embodies Tracey Turnblad. The song and dances unfortunately don’t rise to the level of Nikki’s enthusiasm. They are adequate, but not finger tapping, or memorable enough to be stuck in my head afterwards. The finest performer in the entire film is Elijah Kelley who is a stand out as Seaweed. But his superior dance moves and fine soulful voice feels bottled up with the standard material.

I could never get past John Travolta in drag. It’s just too absurd, even for John Waters. Respect to Christopher Walken who has to play his husband and lover. The mere sight of Walken dancing and embracing a fat-suit-wearing John Travolta is something purposely excised from my memory.

Two and a half stars may be tough on the film, but considering the unanimous praise and 93% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I have to be honest. I would rather see “Dreamgirls” or “Chicago” over “Hairspray” any day. Once is enough. Enjoy.


Andrew D. Wells said...

Well Alan, if you read my four-star review of Hairspray, I'm sure it is no surprise to you that I disagree with your assesment. I think it is easy to dismiss the social commentary of the film because it is done in such a bubblegum way, but that was what I felt was the genius of it. Anyway, I don't really mean to debate this film, since we will most likely have to agree to disagree. But I am horrified that you actually prefer "Dreamgirls" to this. "Dreamgirls" was the most shoddy musical to come from this Hollywood musical renaissance. Not only is the story uneven and even ridiculous in its reflection of the times and social change it is trying to reflect, but it is a movie with wall-to-wall music but only one actual musical number. "Dreamgirls" as a dramatic musical is overdone and melodramatic. "Hairspray" as a social satire is supposed to be overdone and melodramatic.

Anyway, sorry we can't always pat each other on the back, but keep it up anyway. You're writing is good despite our differences in opinion.

Alan Bacchus said...

Hey Andrew,
I knew my review would not sit well with you. In fact, your review was the reason I saw the film. I really did want to love the film.
For me the strength of Dreamgirls was the music and the performers, which was more entertaining for me. But it's certainly no masterpiece either.

sophomorecritic said...

I think that Dreamgirls was released in Oscar season and this was released in the midst of innocent summer fun so I might have judged them along two different standards, for some reason.