With wizards and alien robots dominating the box office these days, why not turn some attention to a great ensemble cast singing and dancing their ways onto the screen? From director Adam Shankman comes a remake of John Waters’ 1988 Hairspray, a hip and jiving campy musical making a successful present-day run on Broadway and now providing nothing but smiles in theaters.
Set in 1962 Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonksy) is a highly energetic girl with one hell of a knack for dancing. Watching the Corny Collins Show-only the most happening dance show on television-with best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes), she learns of a spot opening up for a dancer on the show. After being advised against it by over protective-yet-loving mother Edna (John Travolta-yes, Mr. Travolta is playing a woman), her father Wilbur (the always entertaining Christopher Walken) tells her to go for it. The only thing holding her back: her weight.
Still, she walks on for the audition to impress host Corny Collins (James Marsden), but is rejected for being large by station manager Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer). With the help of Seaweed Stubbs (Elijah Kelly) and a tip by Link Larkin (Zac Efron), Tracy lands a spot on the show. But the launch into stardom clashes with her color blindness, and Tracy dances her heart out to help integrating an evolving Baltimore, with the help of Seaweed and Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah).
Now while the film does so many things right, the first thing it nails down is its cast. Nikki Blonsky (in her film debut) is stunning as Tracy, bringing so much energy to a role previously occupied in film by former talk show host Ricki Lake. Her singing voice is great, and although her speaking voice is a bit too over exaggerated (you’re not on stage, Nikki), she does a wonderful job. Bynes’ role as Penny is a bit of a letdown, mostly because her lack of content. A majority of the time she’s simply eating a lollipop, but she gets to shine a bit towards the end of the film.
The rest of the cast does a splendid job and all stick out on their own, considering the big names that are a part of this. It’s nice to see James Marsden not get constantly screwed in a film (the poor guy lost out to Wolverine AND Superman in his last two big movies, so you have to feel for him a bit) and he’s just so damn…cool. His mannerisms and style in Hairspray are very well done, and the role couldn’t have gone to anyone better. Pfeiffer is terrific as the film’s “villain,” and Brittany Snow provides some great back up, but still it’s mostly riding on Pfeiffer. Efron holds his own amongst them and this could prove he can break out of Disney’s High School Musical circuit. Elijah Kelly provides some great dancing and singing and Queen Latifah is terrific as usual.
But what you’re more than likely wondering about is John Travolta as Edna Turnblad, previously made famous by iconic gay actor Divine. It’s not exactly the role one would expect him to take on, considering some of the characters he’s played in the past (Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, for example). But remembering his Grease and Saturday Night Fever days makes for a good reason why he’s great in this role. He’s not overly trying to be a woman, he just is. You don’t really ever forget that’s him under the fat suit, but it’s not something that’s sticking out at your like a dent in your do (as in hair-do, get it?). Travolta plays it so naturally that it reminds you why he’s the actor he is, and the interaction between him and Walken is classic.
And what good would all this casting be if they couldn’t hold a note or a good step? The soundtrack, while different from the Broadway version, is still as infectious and delightful. James Marsden’s voice is surprisingly strong and Travolta’s womanly singing is decently convincing. The opening song is a little odd, mostly because it’s Blonsky singing good morning to Baltimore (nothing against Baltimore, of course). On the whole, everything is just so damn entertaining, it’s hard not to smile or laugh a majority of the time. You can tell the cast put in a lot of effort to squeeze out the best performances they could.
So if you’re in the mood for some damn fine entertainment, Hairspray is the movie for you. It’s some of the best fun you’ll find in a movie theater all this summer, and really, you’ll probably feel like getting up and dancing for some parts. Shankman did a great job of making everything come right at you and sucking you in. If you’re not the musical type, you may want to steer clear for that reason, but it just might win you over. With any remote interest in this, you definitely won’t be disappointed.