Fun and colourful musical with a skillful cast of actors, singers and dancers while also dealing with the important message of equality.
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenplay: Leslie Dixon (Mrs Doubtfire, Freaky Friday)
Starring: Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, John Travolta, Zac Efron, Michelle Pfieffer, Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Queen Latiffah, Brittany Snow
Tracey Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is a plus size high school student living in Baltimore who dreams of starring the local teen dance TV show, The Corny Collins Show. When once of the dancers on the show has to leave, auditions are held to replace her. Tracey thinks this is her chance to fulfill her dream, but she is rejected by the the show manager Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfieffer) for being overweight and being support of integration, as African American kids are only allowed to sing and dance on the show once a month. But Tracey’s unbeatable postitivity and her steadfast belief in equality for all leads her through several upbeat musical numbers to a happy ending for everyone.
I love a good musical and Hairpray is a good musical. I’m always in astonishment at the talent of musical theatre actors seamlessly pulling off complicated singing and dancing, while also offering acting performances that can range from comedic to heartbreaking all in one character. And this movie offers this in adundance with great songs, great dance numbers (and some surprisingly great moves from James Marsden) and loveable characters.
Set at the beginning of the 60’s the music mixes between a classic broadway style and the 50’s bop music as shown on The Corny Collins Show that the story revolves around. It also deals with the cultural revolution happening during that time, of the conservative older generation forced to face the liberal and free spirited younger generation of the 60’s. The songs and dance numbers propel the film along providing constant entertainment with what is a fairly bare bones plot. However it is a hard hitting plot that doesn’t shy away from the seriousness of the topic, racial segregation, with gravitas while still balancing this with the more lighthearted musical format.
Tracey also faces her own form of discrimination by being a large girl wanting to sing and dance on a TV show ruled by stick thin model type girls. It is wonderful to see a plus size female character where her size is not used as the most significant part of her identity or as the butt of any jokes. Instead her prowess as a singer and dancer is completely at the forefront and showcased as much as possible.
I would have given this film 4 stars, if it wasn’t for John Travolta, playing Edna, Tracey’s mum. I know it’s a tradition in stage productions of Hairspray for that character to be played by a man but his voice was so annoying, his accent so bad and his face really terrifying. I was completely taken out of the film whenever he was in the scene, which was a lot of the time, and he made Edna ludicrous drawing away from the her really lovely story of an older woman rediscovering herself and coming into her own.
Aide from John Travolta this is one of those rare films these days, a genuine family, musical film.