Dave White
Hairspray Review

Dave's Rating:

4.5

… too strong and joyful to be ruined …

Who's in It: Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brittany Snow

The Basics: Is there anyone who doesn't already know what this is about? An exuberant chubby girl in early 1960s Baltimore sings and dances her way to TV racial integration and love with the boy of her dreams. And as a plus-size person myself, I'm just on board with any movie where fat people are the heroes, even if one of them is Travolta in big-lady drag.

What's the Deal? In the world of movies based on Broadway musicals that are in turn based on earlier non-musicals, this one is the best. Of course, its only competition is The Producers and that early 1970s Lucille Ball-starring Mame (and they both sucked bad), but this one is still a blast. It helps that the music has more in common with actual '60s pop songs than with the kind of songs they tend to write for contemporary Broadway musicals. Of course, now all you Spring Awakening fans are going to write in and tell me how horrible I am.

I Know It Seems Impossible: But hack director Adam Shankman doesn't destroy this material. I think it's too strong and joyful to be ruined, no matter how bad of a filmmaker they threw at it. It's like he decided to just focus more on choreography (his first career) than on making tons of wrong-headed directorial decisions. So I think he should only direct movies with lots of singing and dancing from now on, even if he still isn't perfect at showcasing all that choreography. It beats The Pacifier any day.

I Know It Seems Impossible, Part II: But Travolta doesn't destroy this material. He's got to be the laziest actor alive right now, but when he puts on the big-lady outfit, it's like it swallows the worst version of him whole. You can see him trying to be a non-drag Edna, even when he garbles the dialogue until you can't understand him (he's the only one affecting a bizarre version of the unique Baltimore dialect), and even when he does anachronistic-African-American-woman-on-The Rikki Lake Show gestures. He seems as though he's actually submitting to being directed.

One Star Born, Another Makes a Cameo: Young Nikki Blonsky is like this year's Jennifer Hudson, the first-timer going for broke and making you love her in the first 10 seconds she's onscreen. The whole thing hinges on that, and she takes it and runs. Meanwhile, speaking of Rikki Lake, be on the lookout for original the Hairspray star in a cameo as a William Morris agent in the finale.

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