In theaters July 20
Never been high? Just take a whiff of “Hairspray.” From the sunny opening number, where chubby teen Tracy Turnblad sings “Good Morning Baltimore” perched on top of a garbage truck en route to school in her cutesy get-up, to the all-star cast shimmying to flashy finale “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” director Adam Shankman’s “Hairspray” is a sparkling Broadway musical makeover.
Set in the early ’60s, the basic premise parallels John Waters’ campy 1988 cult comedy where big is in: big ‘dos, big butts and big dreams. As Tracy (Nikki Blonsky) and BFF Penny Pingleton’s (vocally-challenged Amanda Bynes) school days tick-tock slower than a hare, the two youngsters race to catch the local TV dance party “The Corny Collins Show” – a talent show for the hip kids in town, hosted by a smiley hunk (James Marsden).
Prissy a-hole Amber von Tussle (Brittany Snow), whose venomous ma Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the station’s bitchy manager, treats the camera like her mirror: flashing her blond locks, soft skin, wafer-thin figure and blinding smile like they’re going out of style. And, if Tracy has anything to do with it, they are.
Velma unleashes her wrath every time the program’s once-a-month “Negro Day,” hosted by record shop owner Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), comes around. But Tracy is determined to become Baltimore’s new darling – and to integrate the show, bringing both big and black back.
“People who are different, their time is coming,” she declares.
True to Waters’ original screenplay, Tracy scores a spot on his show and, to the dismay of Amber and Velma, quickly becomes Baltimore’s beloved big girl. Though initially disapproving, her sheltered mom Edna (John Travolta) and kooky shop-owning dad Wilbur (Christopher Walken) are thrilled. All eyes are on Tracy – including the dreamy ones of Link Larkin (Zac Efron), the suave hipster, who kicks Amber to the curb.
Newcomer Blonsky, as she bats her eyelashes and flashes her infectious charm, is a complete catch, triggering all smiles every time her bubbly presence appears and wicked vocals launch – especially during her first song-and-dance number. And she’s just the Ultra Clutch Hairspray on the already-cutesy-‘do: Fat-suit-bound Travolta shines as a daughter-inspired mom with wobbly dance moves and a Cher-tinged voice (a more muttered and femme offering than Harvey Feinstein in the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical). Pfeiffer is fiercely fun as a wicked witch, and Allison Janney, as Penny’s Holy Roller mother, plays a minor role but a major one in scoring laugh-out-loud moments.
But perhaps the perfect casting choice was Queen Latifah as mother-figure Motormouth Maybelle. Though less sassy than Waters’ original persona, this queen – a forceful (plus-size) figure – doesn’t need a crown. Or a throne. Or grand gowns (though she does don ’em). She wears the part like one of her dresses as she walks through the streets fighting for integration, delivering one of the film’s finest moments during “I Know Where I’ve Been.”
Travolta and Walken share several oh-so-sweet memorable moments, like smilicious pecks and a dance number during the cabaret-like “(You’re) Timeless to Me.” As they sway, scooting in between clotheslines, the scene charms with dreamy flashes and ends with a kitschy line heartwarmingly delivered from Travolta to Walken: “Knights in armor don’t come any shiner than you.”
Aw, shucks! That’s the sentiment “Hairspray” – a peppy movie-to-musical-to-movie vehicle whose engine (Marc Shaiman’s catchy musical cuts) couldn’t run without its snazzy parts (the dazzling bright-color ’60s sheen, carefully choreographed jivin’, and the totally tacky get-ups) – is built on. Those components make for one helluva peppy pedestal for the film’s social message. No question about it: “Hairspray” isn’t sticky, but it shines brighter than coat-after-coat of Ultra Clutch.