Friday, July 27, 2007

Hairspray The Musical

So, things haven't been completely T.A.M.I. 'round these parts, although it would seem so on this blog. I have been listening to and watching other things. I saw "Hairspray" last Friday, but I didn't get to give it the once over. Let's try it now.

I liked it. I liked it very, very much. I'd say it was the best musical since "Little Shop Of Horrors". "Waitaminit, Terry", you might be thinking, "That movie is 21 years old. There have been a lot of good movie musicals since then." Yeah, you're right, but there hasn't been any that've been this much fun. For some inane reason, there is a trend that states a musical can't be well done unless it's done with total and unbridled seriousness. "Chicago" left me cold. I remember seeing it in the movie theatre and, as soon as the opening number started ("All That Jazz") I leaned over to my friend and whispered, "Ah, shit. It's that f**kin' Fosse musical." "Moulin Rouge" was okay, but it was a monster of recycled pop that gave the "SGT. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" movie a run for it's money. I coulda went with "All This and World War II", but let's not get too obscure. "The Phantom of the Opera" was a limp, tragic mess that needs no more of my thought. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" was a mind blower, but maybe too self aware to be transcending into the pop mainstream. I liked "Dreamgirls", but it would have been a throwaway movie if not for Eddie Murphy and the swooningly marvellous performance from Jennifer Hudson (whom I still have a deep crush on because of that performance). The difference between those films and "Hairspray" is that "Hairspray" doesn't want to do anything but entertain you, completely and thoroughly. There's no high drama, nothing to make you think and no pithy pathos. It's so very refreshing because of that.

Not to say that New Line Cinema didn't try to pass it off as the next "Dreamgirls" with it's Ad campaign, with it's title done in a "Dreamgirls" type font. It also suffered from an ad campaign that featured NONE of the songs, as if the studio was ashamed it was a musical. Wow, imagine that. Let's not tell the audience it's a musical or they might not want to see it. John Travolta in drag=good, singing=bad. I hate corporate entertainment studios.

The film is solid, however. Although the dance aspect is obscured in favor of a segregation plot (the opposite was true for the original movie), the film remains sunny and largely inoffensive. Nikki Blonsky is quite the cute and appealing little cannonball as Tracy Turnblad. She's much better than Rikki Lake in the original in my opinion as she's spunkier. Amanda Bynes was almost completely wasted in the Penny Pingleton role. She spends 3/4 of the film standing behind Blonsky and sucking on a lollipop (though Allison Janney scores highly as her mom, Prudy Pingleton). It's not until the fourth quarter of the film they finally let her sing and let loose. Brittany Snow is, well, functional in her part as prissy bitch Amber Von Tussle and daughter to Michelle Pfieffer's villainess Velma Von Tussle. Pfieffer does a great Debby Harry impression, but I miss the bomb in her hair. Zac Efron looks like he's preparing for the lead role in the "Cry Baby" musical than anything, but he's appealing enough. James Marsden is pretty much wasted as a white-bread-bland Corny Collins. Christopher Walken, as Tracy's father, shines in a surprisingly fragile and tender role. Of course, Queen Latifah is simply marvellous as Motormouth Maybell; the real star of the movie. Elijah Kelley, however, nearly steals the movie from everyone as Seaweed, dancer extraordinaire and potential boyfriend of Penny Pingleton. He's got the looks and charm of a major star. Gotta watch for him in the future.

But the thing everyone wants to know is, how is John Travolta??? Well, he's okay. He plays the role straight and seriously as a put upon mother (unlike that hack Harvey Firestein, who apparently thought the role was a man playing a woman) and in that he does Divine proud. He's a bit stiff at first, but as the plot unfolds around him, the character begins to open up and gives Travolta some breathing room. The only problem I could detect was his voice, which sounded an awful lot like Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie". You know, that soft, wispy whisper with a slight impediment.

The Musical numbers are exceedingly well done and the movie flies by in a quicksilver 2 hours. There's not much else I need to say except SEE IT ON THE BIG SCREEN. The Widescreen compositions demand theatrical viewing. HDTV can't compare. I'll buy it on DVD, if only for the numbers they cut and any other features that might be had, but it won't make me forget John Waters' sublime original.

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