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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Hairspray

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Judy Thorburn

Hairspray

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"HAIRSPRAY" - IS A 'COLORFUL' AND ENTERTAINING MUSICAL ADAPTATION

Flick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil

I don’t care what anyone else says. Someone has to be truthful and say it like it is. John Travolta was terribly miscast in this movie adaptation of the 2002 Tony Award winning Broadway musical based on John Water’s original 1998 cult classic film. Let’s be real. Noone could fill the outrageous shoes of the late drag queen extraordinaire “Divine” in the role he/she originated as the obese, Edna Turnblad. However, Harvey Fierstein made the role his own on Broadway and in the abbreviated version that had a brief run in Las Vegas a few years back.

John Travolta is another thing altogether. We all know he is accomplished song and dance man (Saturday Night Fever, Grease), so for him, the musical aspects were a breeze. The problem was watching him parade around as Edna in drag, in a fat suit with a face puffed out by grotesque facial prosthetics and makeup. His “look” and absurd “southern-like drawl” were such annoying distractions that he almost destroyed, what otherwise, was a rather entertaining movie experience. At no time did I believe Travolta was a woman. In fact, a friend and fellow film critic remarked, and I agreed, that his facial makeup had him resembling a cabbage patch doll.

Don’t get me wrong. I have always been a Travolta fan, but that doesn’t mean he can do no wrong. His star power, and marquee draw was the obvious reason he got this role, a mistake if there ever was one, which only goes to prove that dollar signs override style or substance. From what I have read and heard, Travolta took the role only if he could have total control of the character, as if he had some special insight. Please! Even as an over the top gimmick it fails to work. The way I see it, Christopher Walken who portrays, Wilbur, Edna’s fat loving, adoring husband, would have been a better choice. They should have switched roles before filming began.

Now that that is said and done, even though it is hard to leave Travolta out of the equation, Hairspray is bursting with high energy, upbeat music, and solid performances by most of the cast.

Newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who won the role over more than 1,000 who auditioned in a nationwide casting call, is a delightful find. She carries the film, bringing loads of talent and charm to her role as overweight teen Tracy Turnblad, in this retro look at Baltimore circa 1962. There is more than meets the eye as the story lightheartedly tackles issues of prejudice, racial discrimination, and societal acceptance.

Hairspray revolves around the life of irrepressible, plump Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad, who lives with her stay at home, self conscious, grossly overweight, laundress mother Edna (Travolta) and supportive father, joke shop owner Wilbur (Walken). Tracy, on the other hand, is secure and comfortable with whom she is and dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show (a nod to American Bandstand) with best friend Penny Pingleton (an adorable Amanda Bynes) against her mother’s approval. The year is 1962 before racial barriers were broken, and so the show only features an all white cast of beautiful and thin dancers, among them the boy with whom Tracy has a crush on, handsome Link Larkin (Zac Efron). Link’s main squeeze is Amber (Brittany Snow) the daughter of malicious and racist, TV station manager Velma Von Hussle (a deliciously evil, Michele Pfeiffer) who would love to see her daughter win the title of Miss Teenage Hairspray.

When Tracy is sent to school’s detention class for “inappropriate hair height” she meets Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), a black student who teaches her some cool dance moves. With open auditions to fill a slot on the dance show, Tracy gets her wish fulfilled when she catches the eye of the show’s host, Corny Collins (James Marsden, The X Men) which of course, appalls Velma who sees the overweight Tracy as not fitting in. As far as Velma is concerned, having Tracy as a cast member is as bad as having to allocate one day a month to Negro Day, hosted by Seaweed’s mother, record shop owner Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). In turn Tracy, seeing the lack of diversity as wrong and unfair,  uses her newfound popularity as an overnight sensation to make a stand as an activist for civil rights.

Fans of the Water’s original film and its subsequent staged musical will notice that some tweaking has been made in the storyline with some things omitted and a few added. Closer to the Broadway musical, yet not as edgy or subversive as Water’s original film, director/choreographer Adam Shankman has homogenized this version and re-invented Hairspray for mainstream audiences without losing the basic spirit.

The standout songs are the rousing opening “Good Morning Baltimore” and the closing “You Can’t Stop the Beat”, but all the numbers will have you tapping your feet to the infectious music and exhilarating choreography.

The supporting cast includes a small role by Allison Janney (TV’s The West Wing); a hoot as Penny’s bible thumping, ultra conservative mother who is freaked out by her daughter Penny’s interracial romance with Seaweed. Elijah Kelley ignites the screen as Seaweed, and although Queen Latifah, all big, beautiful and blonde is a scene stealer who can sing up a storm, she doesn’t live up to her character’s name, nor does she look old enough for the part.

As a nod to the 1988 campy film, Jerry Stiller, and Ricki Lake who were the original Mr. Turnblad and his daughter Tracy, are given cameos, and if you blink you might miss Waters himself, as a street flasher.

In a genre that is making a comeback on the big screen, you can add the musical version of Hairspray to the growing list of must sees, with flaws and all. Yes, the film is colorful, fast paced, high spirited and entertaining, but due to Travolta’s miscasting, I have to say Hairspray is short of “divine”.