Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hairspray, the Musical

OK, before I review this movie, I have to say something: Christopher Walken is a national treasure. Now that that's off my chest, I can think about the rest of the movie.

There are so many good things to say about Hairspray, and scanning the reviews, I can see that other folks have pretty much said them all. Everyone is good: the standouts are Walken (who plays Wilbur Turnblad with charm and an absolutely straight face, the formidable Queen Latifah, and Nikki Blonsky, the sweet caramel center of this confection. The movie practically bounces off the screen with energy, and I danced out of the theater.

I was curious about the casting of John Travolta as Edna Turnblad, and he was the one slightly offkey note in the entire production. Granted, there was only one Divine, (who played Edna in John Waters' original film) but Travolta could have been great: at times he inhabits Edna in a way that transcends makeup, fat suits, and drag. However, he made the poor decision to play Edna with a wink, letting you know that under the fat suit, under the hose, was a Guy who thought it was a great joke to wag his padded fanny and fawn over food. Given that the whole point of the movie is a celebration of the underdog, the winks were out of place: Walken made a much better choice, playing Wilbur with sincerity. (So why the wink, John? Too painful to simply stay in there?)

I finally got it, though, why it had to be Travolta, when I saw Michelle Pfeiffer: the two of them starred in Grease and Grease 2, respectively, the movies that more than anything else sold a glitzy, sugarcoated image of that era to the public. Hairspray is the anti-Grease: happy and bouncy and relentless, yes, but frank in describing a time of casual cruelty and institutionalized segregation. There are homages to the original Hairspray, if you don't blink: John Waters plays a flasher in the opening credits, and near the end, Rikki Lake plays one of a trio of talent agents. Jerry Stiller, the original Wilbur, is back as Mr. Pinky, and even though the script doesn't give him much to do, he's funny anyway.

The film has a wealth of fine performances: I look forward to seeing more of Zac Efron, who managed to get more out of the Link Larkin part than had any right to be there. Nikki Blonsky was marvelous, dancing and bouncing and giving the movie its heart.

Thumbs up! and a bullet on the charts, to Hairspray.


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