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HomeNewsArchivesWith Latest Version of ‘Hairspray,’ Third Time’s the Charm

With Latest Version of ‘Hairspray,’ Third Time’s the Charm

July 25, 2007 — At last! A movie everybody loves. "Hairspray" has critics rolling in the aisles, bubbling over.
Just listen: "bright, bouncy movie musical," "happy surprise, a candy-colored ode to outsiders" — and that's just a sampling.
On top of all that, it features Nikki Blonsky, a roly-poly — all right, fat — teenager, an unknown plucked from a Long Island high school in real life, as the star, Tracy Turnblad. It's not exactly Lana Turner at the soda fountain, but close. In truth, she had a talent agency's assist, but she persevered and won out of a national talent call.
And, fancy this: John Travolta in drag in a fat suit as Tracy's mom, Edna Turnblad. And if that isn't enough, Christopher Walken as her dad, Wilbur Turnblad. Yes, Walken, he of the zero-gravity hair and the dour countenance, dancing up a storm. (Actually, Walken started out as a child star, hoofing it on TV.)
Now, about Travolta in drag. Ty Burr in the Boston Globe, has this to say: "Actually, there are times in the movie when Travolta seems on the verge of being eaten by his fat suit, so swaddled is the actor in padding, hair, make up and structural engineering. I haven't even mentioned the exceedingly strange accent in which he delivers his lines: Carol Channing by way of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel."
The current "Hairspray" is recycled from the original 1988 John Waters movie — a sneakily subversive blast of early-'60s nostalgia about TV dance shows and rock 'n' roll integration — and from the Broadway musical made from the Waters movie.
"But, it's still fresh the third time around," says Roger Ebert, who calls it, "just plain fun.” He continues, “Or maybe not so plain. There's a lot of craft and slyness lurking beneath the circa-1960s goofiness. The movie seems guileless and rambunctious, but it looks just right."
The movie is stuffed with stars: Michelle Pfeiffer as the viper radio station manager, Velma Von Tussle; Amanda Bynes as Penny Pingleton, Tracy's best friend; James Marsden as host of the "Corny Collins Show”; Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelline, host of the monthly “Negro Day Show”; and Zac Efron as Link Larkin, Tracy's admirer.
And watch out for a couple zingers: the venerable Jerry Stiller as Mr. Pinky, and Waters himself, darting in as a flasher.
The simple story has not changed. Turnblad has one dream in life, to dance on Corny Collins’ TV show, Baltimore's hippest dance party. She's always had problems because of her girth. But Turnblad wows Corny, bets on the show and enters the "Miss Teenage Hairspray" contest, pitted against Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), the evil Velma's daughter. Through a school experience, Turnblad's eyes are opened to racial inequality, and she leads a march against discrimination with Maybelline Motormouth.
Burr says, "'Singing 'Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now,' Tracy scales the battlements of uptight Baltimore and drags black kids like Seaweed Stubbs (a terrifically limber and engaging Elijah Kelley) and his sister Little Inez (Taylor Parks) in her wake, trying to finish what Elvis started by getting them on TV to dance to their own music."
Will the ebullient Turnblad miss the final dance-off contest because of her new social consciousness? Well, what do you think?
"The point, however, is not the plot but the energy,” Ebert says. “Without somebody like Nikki Blonsky at the heart of the movie, it might fall flat, but everybody works at her level of happiness."
Blonsky talks about how Nikki became Tracy in the July 2 New York magazine: "Tracy Turnblad has been my dream role ever since I saw ‘Hairspray’ on Broadway. I instantly connected to her.”
The magazine describes Blonsky as "an antic performer with operatic range and a spring-loaded smile." When Blonsky relates getting to share screen time with her heroes, she says, "They told me, ‘Your best friend’s going to be played by Amanda Bynes,' and I freaked out! I grew up watching ‘The Amanda Show’!”
Prepare to have your expectations adjusted, Ebert says.
"You know the story, you've seen the movie and heard all about the musical, and you think you know what to expect,” he says. “But the movie seems to be happening right now, or right then, and its only flaw as a period picture is that there aren't enough Studebakers in it."
It is directed by Adam Shankman, runs 115 minutes, and is rated PG for offensive language, some suggestive content and images of teenage smoking.
It starts Thursday at Sunny Isle Theaters.

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