Hairspray Review

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Early ’60s Baltimore, and Tracy Turnblad (Blonsky), a big girl with big hair and an enormous heart, dreams of appearing on teen TV dance party The Corny Collins Show. Her wish is granted, but not all goes according to plan...


From the opening sequence, in which Nikki Blonsky’s tubby teen, Tracy Turnblad, delivers a wonderful ode to her home town of Baltimore from atop a garbage truck, the tone is set: trashy in the extreme, but never rubbish.

Far from it, this lively and unashamedly kitsch adaptation of the stage musical, itself adapted from John Waters’ finest mainstream movie, is a real crowd-pleaser.

The most notable stars, including John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken, enjoy varying degrees of success, but it’s the army of adolescents that steals the show. Travolta takes the role of Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s mum (played by Divine in the 1988 original), and encased in a latex fat-suit he pulls off a remarkable homage to Tina Turner in the final scenes. Up to that point, however, Travolta’s rotund female is a bit of a drag.

Walken, meanwhile, fails to consistently hit the right note, here playing Edna’s chubby-loving hubby, shorn of humorous lines. But Pfeiffer delivers a stinging performance, positively buzzing as Velma Von Tussle, the bigoted producer of The Corny Collins Show, and James Marsden, as its eponymous host, is cheesily terrific.

The youthful denizens of that show, on the other hand, all perform admirably, revelling in the expert direction of dancer-turned-director Adam Shankman. While his earlier directorial efforts - including The Pacifier and Cheaper By The Dozen 2 - failed to inspire, here he excels, eschewing frenetic MTV editing in favour of a simple yet robust style, which allows his fruity, pastel-clad preeners to trip merrily across the screen, led by Blonsky’s preternaturally cheerful Tracy.

High School Musical star Zac Efron shines as Tracy’s potential beau, while Elijah Kelley is sensational as the daughter of Queen Latifah’s Maybelle. The latter’s rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been is one of the many musical highlights.

The integrity of Waters’ picture, focusing on the fight against racial segregation, is somewhat diluted, but Shankman never intended a character-driven, morally sound movie. Instead, he has crafted a piece of fluffy puff featuring more camp activity than a Boy Scouts holiday.

Offering plenty of body and a lot of lift, Hairspray gels kitsch styling with show-stopping tunes to mould a memorable musical.