Published Jul 19, 2007Its been so long since anybody made a decent musical that I was willing to overlook the failings of Hairspray, to a point. Based on John Waters 1988 sleeper (via the Broadway hit that made it famous again), it initially pleases with its high spirits and surprisingly good choreography, all of it way better than youd expect from the director of The Pacifier.
Hairspray is fine as long as it just tells the story of Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky), the pleasingly plump teenager who navigates 1963 Baltimore while dreaming of dancing on the local American Bandstand knockoff. And its surprising just how fun it can be, especially when Tracy coaxes out her shy mother (John Travolta in a fat suit) for a night on the town. But once it gets into the issue of desegregation, and wheels in some black characters that are a little too accommodating to the white leads, the film starts writing cheques it cant ever hope to cash.
Though technically it has more of a black presence than Waters original, the earlier film perceptively satirised the well-meaning naiveté of white kids projecting onto others; this one merely embodies that innocence and ups that ante with a bit of presumption. All of the sequences with Queen Latifah and the black dancers yearning for a regular spot on that dance show are more than a little patronising, with most of the benefits awarded to Tracy and her cohorts even as they try to say the right thing.
By the end, our initial goodwill has been squandered and we ride through the final number with a bit of a furrowed brow. (Alliance Atlantis)