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Hairspray
July 29, 2007

Just saw Hairspray, and I loved it! (View the trailer.) It’s a very happy movie that will have you leaving the theater singing.

I’d been worried about a couple of things going in, but they weren’t problems at all. The songs on the soundtrack I thought “eh” about played much better with the visuals, and John Travolta wasn’t distracting, even though he and on-screen hubby Christopher Walken never kiss. (Gotta keep that PG rating.) Travolta does a great job, actually, and I even liked his accent.

There were two things about the ending that kept it from being quite right for me, but they were understandable… the four star kids don’t participate in the final dance number as much as I’d like, instead watching it and smiling, but I doubt they would be able to keep up with the very athletic professional dancers. I also wish that Tracy (Nicole Blonsky in a great debut) and Link’s big relationship love song had them in the same room together!

I found it fascinating that someone made a traditional feel-good Hollywood musical equating fat acceptance with racial integration (and starring a guy in a dress). And there are whole theses to be written on the conflation of sex, blackness, and the ability to dance. (Was I the only one who noticed that when Amanda Bynes’ white girl admitted her love for the talented black dancer played by Elijah Kelley, she suddenly looked a lot more tan?) It’s a bit stereotypical in that way, that the black kids teach Tracy how to dance even better than she does by showing her how to “shake it” and accept her body and sexual attraction to Link. Where the white girl trio wears party dresses with tons of crinolines, the black girl trio wears skin-tight cleavage-barers with slits up to their hips. No wonder the parents are afraid of “those” people while the kids have no problem mixing!

I’m still wondering about the visual of the “We Shall Overcome”-type anthem “I Know Where I’ve Been” led by a black woman with blonde hair. (There’s something going on with hair lightening throughout the movie — when Tracy gets on TV, suddenly she’s got blonde bangs and streaks.) And there’s a certain spoiled liberal aspect to making the fight for civil rights a mechanism for Tracy finding herself and catching the cute boy. But it’s Hollywood, and it’s a period piece, and it’s a feel-good musical.

What else? Zac Efron is being groomed to be a hot heartthrob both in the movie and real life, and his new-for-the-film number “Ladies’ Choice” nicely shows his chops. Allison Janney is hilarious as Bynes’ incredibly restrictive mother. James Marsden is absolutely incredible as dance-show host Corny Collins. I had a hard time remembering he’d been Cyclops, he so perfectly inhabited the role.

He also stars in Enchanted, an upcoming movie we saw the preview for. It looks wonderful, about a fairy-tale prince and princess who wind up in modern-day New York. I didn’t even recognize him, probably because I was distracted by the other male lead, Patrick Dempsey.

This was the first film I’d seen in forever where I wanted to see all of the movies advertised with trailers. Aside from that one, the other previews were August Rush (a musical prodigy given up for adoption tries to find his parents, with supporting cast of Robin Williams playing Bono), Across the Universe (a giant Beatles music video, and I knew I recognized Eddie Izzard), Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, and The Golden Compass. It looks like November is going to be all about the big budget special effect family fantasies.

3 Responses  
John writes:  

Some of the things you mention were in the original and it should be remembered that version was a semi-autobiographical film by a person – John Waters – who was actually in Baltimore in the early 60s as a teen and relating what actually went on through his own, one-of-a-kind vision. The new film is a remake and an adaptation of a stage adaptation that transformed it into family fare. So it’s a third generation version of what was originally a first person take on the subject matter.

Eh, I don’t see why everything has to be a Broadway musical these days. I won’t see the musical version of the Producers either – the original comedy was good enough for me.

 
Johanna writes:  

Thanks for the context reminder.

I’ll flip your point about Broadway around, and say — isn’t it sad that so many Broadway shows are licensed from other media? I know it’s because it’s so expensive to mount a show, and known properties are considered safer (although that didn’t help Carrie, the Musical, which needed a slap upside the head for a reality check much earlier in the process).

I did like the Producers movie musical more than the original film, but that’s only because so much of what the original movie clever and original had been spoiled for me before I saw it. The new version had singing and dancing to freshen it up.

 
John writes:  

It’s a point well worth flipping.

It seems to be the stage equivalent of all the films that are remakes of TV shows. Safe product is the product most likely produced – in any medium.

Unfortunately.

 

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