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Hairspray

  • 2007-08-29
  • by Tim Ochser

WOAH MOMMA! John Travola (left), plays the fumpy mother in this comedy, a long way from his role in 'Grease.'

Director: Adam Shankman

Movies don't come much brasher than "Hairspray." It's almost two hours of wildly exuberant in-your-face singing and dancing that frankly left me feeling utterly exhausted. It's the sort of movie that is so excessively upbeat it also makes you want to rush out and watch Ingmar Bergman at his bleakest just to restore a little balance to the order of things.

"Hairspray" begins charmingly enough. Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is a plump, perpetually smiling teenage girl who wants nothing more than to be a regular dancer on the Corny Collins show in early '60s Baltimore.
Her equally plump mother (a well-cushioned and made-over John Travolta) thinks she's aiming way too high, while her father (Christopher Walken), a kind-hearted jokester, thinks his beloved little girl can do whatever she sets her heart on.
Tracy manages to get on the show but makes a few enemies in the process. For one thing, she believes that "every day should be Negro day" on the Corny Collins show after befriending a group of marginalized black kids.

Much of the movie is concerned with Tracy's fight for racial equality. While well-intentioned, this political dimension is rendered almost farcical by the fact that everyone keeps bursting into song every scene. 
By the 20th song, my head was starting to ache. "Hairspray" has the unfortunate effect (which could be deliberate irony) of making you feel like you have just inhaled an entire canister of toxic hairspray, the effects of which are momentary glee, followed by severe nausea.
I far preferred the 1988 version of the same story by John Waters which managed to combine kitsch Technicolor nostalgia with subversive political commentary far more subtly. It was a whole lot more entertaining too.

"Hairspray" uncomfortably reminded me of "Dream Girls" which was one of the most annoying and overrated movies I've seen in recent years. In both cases, music is used to bludgeon the audience into an emotional response.
There are some very amusing scenes, however, between the endless singing and dancing and the humor does manage to retain something of the dark undertones of John Water's earlier film.
Nikki Blonsky is undeniably charming as Tracy and her infectious smile somehow makes the film more bearable to watch. But the all-star cast was doubtlessly designed to make "Hairspray'' into a summer blockbuster. Like John Travolta's fake layers of fat, "Hairspray" is nowhere near as radical as it pretends to be.

Now showing in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
 

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