At the center of it all is newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who stars brilliantly as Tracy Turnblad, the wide-eyed optimistic teen from Baltimore in the racially segregated sixties. With her non-WASPy surname, pleasantly plump figure and a whole lot of soul, this is one girl with flavor. She and her pigtailed sidekick Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) live for “The Corny Collins Show”, a local dance show a la American Bandstand that has the two racing home from school every day. Tracy has her heart on the show’s resident heartthrob Link Lurkin (Zac Efron) and her hopes set on dancing on the show. A window of opportunity opens when a promiscuous regular takes a nine month leave of absence, giving Tracy the chance she’s been yearning for.
We follow Tracy and Penny as she cuts school to audition, despite opposition from voluptuous mamma Edna Turnblad (John Travolta). After facing rejection by the catty teen queens of the show, led by Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) and her cougar of a mother, station manager Velma (Michelle Pfieffer), Tracy finds herself in detention, where she befriends Seaweed (Elijah Kelley) and perhaps the rest of the African-American student body. While exchanging sexy dance moves with her detention mates, Tracy gets discovered by Link, Corny Collins himself (James Marsden) and his crew during a scouting trip, eventually lands a spot on the show, runs for the coveted “Miss Hairspray” title and fights against the racial inequality that plagues the TV station.
The film puts you on the fast track to happiness with its candy colored costuming, and is consistently adorable from start to finish with the ultimate feel good finale. Its soundtrack and thrilling dance numbers will produce a challenge to stay in your seat, making it a must see for music lovers or anyone looking for good old fashioned fun.
Racial undertones are in high gear and delivered with tongue and cheek flair. The Corny Collins Show struggles to keep the show full of “nice little white kids”, with only a monthly special for their overlooked black viewership called “Negro Day”, hosted by the “big, black and beautiful” Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). Things get even spicier as Penny tries her hand at interracial romance, falling hot and heavy for Seaweed and proclaiming herself a “Checkerboard Girl” on television in the hilarious finale, almost giving her mother, aptly named Prudy (Allison Janney) a coronary. Humor aside, the unrest of the era is never overshadowed, nor is the overall message of the power of the underdog.
HAIRSPRAY’S remarkable ensemble cast also includes Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad, with special appearances by Jerry Stiller (the original Wilbur Turnblad), the original Tracy, Ricki Lake, and a cameo by John Waters himself. It is perfectly casted with actors who flex their rarely seen musical talent like nobody’s business. But perhaps the movie’s secret formula is a dose of Grease franchise alum Travolta and Pfieffer (Grease II), giving it the right touch to make it the most vivacious musical to hit movie theatres since the 1978 box office smash.
Make no mistake, this is not an exact replica of its darker, rock n’ roll predecessor, or even a sublte imitation. HAIRSPRAY has a strong hold with a freshness all its own, and has proven itself to be an instant classic for all ages. My prediction: a more than a few nods during awards season.
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Weak: 1 Star Average: 2 Stars Good: 3 Stars Very Good: 4 Stars Excellent: 5 Stars