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December 11, 2023

Hairspray is even better the third time around

By NATALIE BERKMAN | September 19, 2007

Remakes are a strange breed of movie, and oftentimes they barely measure up to the original. The original 1988 film Hairspray was a John Waters cult hit that was transformed into a Broadway musical in 2002. This summer it returned to the big screen as a Hollywood blockbuster with lots of big names, big music and, most importantly, big hair.

The movie opens with a plump, seemingly delusional teenage girl named Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), who thinks she can change the world. She moves to her own beat in her hometown (and ours), Baltimore, as she strives to become a dancer on the Corny Collins Show. When she finally succeeds, despite constant opposition from Amber and Velma von Tussle (Brittany Snow and Michelle Pfeiffer), the focus shifts to others who are about to be transported by Tracy into their own fairy tales. Tracy encourages her mother, Edna (John Travolta), to leave the house and helps her best friend, Penny (Amanda Bynes) break out of her shell. She then proceeds to desegregate the racially-torn Baltimore with the help of Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) and her kids, Seaweed J. Stubbs (Elijah Kelley) and Little Inez (Taylor Parks).

Blonsky is a refreshing face for the big screen and an all-around fantastic performer. With her cute smile and wonderful voice, she instantly charms the audience. While Amanda Bynes doesn't quite have the voice for the role as Penny, she plays a hilariously clueless best friend who ends up falling in love with Seaweed despite her mother's strict rules. Zac Efron, as Tracy's love interest, Link Larkin, did a good job acting the stuck-up snob who learns a lesson. Ultimately, he ends up falling for Tracy despite her less-than-fit physique.

Of all the young stars in the movie, though, none can compare with Elijah Kelley's performance. Not only is he the best dancer in the cast, but he possesses both an amazing voice and a unique style. His big number, "Run and Tell That," is one of the most energetic and impressive dance sequences in the entire movie.

The adult members of the cast are superb. While it may be weird for some to see John Travolta wearing a fat suit and a dress, he pulls it off perfectly. Every gesture and inflection in his voice seems so undeniably female that, towards the end, one almost forgets that it's Danny Zuko twisting with co-star Christopher Walken (who played Tracy's father).

Walken's role as Wilbur Turnblad issimultaneously lighthearted and insightful. And, as always, Queen Latifah is wonderful - her voice fills the movie theater during her gospel number, "I Know Where I've Been." She was made for this role. James Marsden (Corny Collins) is perky and talented, while Pfeiffer is wonderful as the show's producer and conniving antagonist to Tracy. Overall the cast's talent lives up to its A-list name.

The 1960s was a gilded era, and this movie proves that it was held up with hairspray. However it also shows that one person can make a difference if that's what he or she wants. Tracy isn't the most impressive heroine: she's spirited, yet seems to be living in a daydream at the beginning of the movie. But, as her father tells her, "You have to think big to be big." By fighting for what she believes in, Tracy changes the face of Baltimore and helps the people she cares about. She's the kind of heroine who people should want to admire, and the lessons she embodies in Hairspray are still relevant today.

As the movie progresses, the audience can see that Baltimore has its own unique beat and, even though Hairspray was filmed in Toronto, the quirky Baltimorean atmosphere shines through. The music itself is characteristic of the '60s but enjoyable for all ages. The costumes are incredible and the choreography is outstanding (as should be expected for a movie based on an eight-time Tony award-winning musical). Every second is filled with energy and excitement and the humor panders to a broad range of audiences. While the movie somewhat loses the appeal of live theater, it gains so much more that a live production doesn't have.

And, of course, Hairspray was originally a movie. In this sense, Hairspray is not another typical musical turned into a movie, since it was made for the big screen in its first form. Where other musicals, when adapted for film, seem awkward and cramped, Hairspray succeeds wildly.

It has everything you could want in a movie: a good plot, vivid characters, great choreography and music, incredible costumes and sets and an ending that will make you wish it would never end. "Good Morning Baltimore! There's a bright brand new [movie] in store" ... and it certainly lives up to its cinematic lineage.

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