Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 30
 
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.


ENJOYING A MOTHER DAUGHTER MOMENT: Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky, right) enjoys a meal with her mother Edna (John Travolta) in a Baltimore diner where they have met to discuss Tracy's teenage problems.

Hairspray: Cult Classic Revived as a Watered-Down Musical

Kam Williams

When first released in 1988, Hairspray was a socially conscious satire which delivered a political message about the evils of cultural ostracism and ethnic intolerance. Set against the backdrop of the simmering tensions of a segregated Baltimore during the early sixties, the campy cult classic described the efforts of some idealistic teenagers to integrate a popular TV dance show.

That edgy original was directed by John Waters, an iconoclast who has never been afraid to tackle any controversial issue head-on, often in a manner that would cause his audience to squirm in their seats. His movie recreated an authentic ambience by using a combination of period décor, and choreography set to a catchy soundtrack featuring such hit songs as Town without Pity, You'll Lose a Good Thing and It's Madison Time.

In 2002 Hairspray was overhauled and revived on Broadway, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Now, Adam Shankman has adapted that play to the big screen as a bouncy, bubbly, but eviscerated production which bears a superficial resemblance to its source material. This should come as no surprise since Shankman has previously directed such mass appeal comedies as Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Pacifier, Bringing Down the House and The Wedding Planner.

Hairspray stars Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad, a light on her feet plus-sized teen who has been dreaming of a chance to strut her stuff on The Corny Collins Show with cast regular Link (Zac Efron), a classmate she has a huge crush on. John Travolta (in drag) and Christopher Walken play her working class parents Edna and Wilbur, Amanda Bynes appears as Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton, and Brittany Snow plays Link's girlfriend, Amber von Tussle.

The plot thickens after Tracy's disastrous audition in which she is rejected, not for her dancing, but because she says she'd have no problem swimming in a pool together with black people. To add insult to injury, she ends up in trouble when she returns to school, because she had to cut class for the tryout.

Detention turns out to be a blessing in disguise, because she gets to meet cool African American kids who share Tracy's taste in music. She and Penny cross the color line to befriend them, especially Seaweed (Elijah Kelly) and his sister, Little Inez (Taylor Parks).

Everything comes to a head when WYZT's steely station manager, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), cancels the once a month "Negro Day" dance program hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). Of course, Tracy comes to the rescue by leading a march demanding integration at WYZT just in time for Inez to enter the Miss Teenage Hairspray Contest.

Hairspray is a safe self congratulatory fantasy which revisits the civil rights era to provide a syrupy sweet sing-a-long trip down memory lane to an unrecognizable, Hollywood utopia that never existed. Look for cameos by John Waters as a flasher, and Ricki Lake, who first introduced the role of Tracy, as a talent scout.

Fair (1 star). Rated PG for teen smoking, mild epithets, and suggestive content. Running time: 107 minutes. Studio: New Line Cinema.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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