Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hairspray (2007, Adam Shankman)

Easily the best Hollywood musical I've seen since the otherwise completely different MOULIN ROUGE! A lot of this has to do with the relative lack of LET! US! ENTERTAIN! YOU! direction, which worked in ROUGE since it was such an oddball, but gets tiresome in stuff like DREAMGIRLS or CHICAGO. By contrast, HAIRSPRAY is more in the spirit of classic Hollywood, lighter on the pyrotechnics and much heavier on the dancing than most of its contemporaries. I also liked the relative innocence of the narrative- this isn't the wink-wink nostalgia trip of GREASE, but a timewarp back to a mindset of the early sixties. Some of the harder (weirder) edges have been sanded off the John Waters original in translation- there's no Pia Zadora reading "Howl" this time out- but much of the naughtiness manifests itself instead in the sexed-up dance moves of lead newcomer Nikki Blonsky, a plus-sized dynamo possessed of an infectious energy. Unexpectedly, I also enjoyed John Travolta in drag- his performance is distracting at first, given that it's both heavily stylized and unmistakably Travolta-esque, but once Edna begins coming out of her shell, Travolta's performance feels less fussy and more fanciful. Plus it's nice to see him dancing again as something more than just a gimmick (Christopher Walken, as her husband, is a joy as well). As for the rest of the cast, top marks go to Elijah Kelley, who's got a smooth voice and dance moves to spare, and surprisingly, James Marsden as the ever-smiling Corny Collins. Some of the supporting characters are too sketchy to be very interesting- Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) is more a symbol than anything, and Aryan stage-mother-and-daughter terrors Michelle Pfeiffer and Brittany Snow are broadly-drawn villainess cariactures. Also, the portrayal of the civil rights movement in Baltimore '62 is simplistic- not so much the marching and the protests, but the quickness with which integration is embraced by the viewing audience. But then, we don't come to HAIRSPRAY expecting MALCOLM X, do we? As an entertainment, it's fairly irresistible, reminding us of the pleasures only a good musical can provide. Rating: 7 out of 10.

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