by Tony Medley
If you want to see an
entertaining musical, one with pretty girls and tuneful songs and great
dancing, avoid Hairspray. While this is supposed to be a simple
story of a fat girl, Tracy Turnblad (4-foot, 10-inch Nikki Blonsky), who
wants to dance on The Corny Collins Show, an American
Bandstand- type TV show in Philadelphia in 1962, a great musical it
While it is true that there
are many fat people who are light on their feet and are very good
dancers, Blonsky isn’t one of them. Although trained as a singer, she
really has no background in dance, and it shows. This is puzzling
casting because the character loves to dance. But when Blonsky dances,
And the story of the fat
girl trying to get on the show, which is what the Broadway play was
about, has been sublimated to a story of racial equality and civil
rights. The movie has elevated what was the slowest part of the play
into the central story of the movie, the idea that Velma Von Tussle
(Michelle Pfeiffer), the owner of the station (who wants her daughter,
Amber (Brittany Snow), to be the lead female dancer on the show) wants
to end “Negro Day,” the one day a week the show devotes to black
dancers, entirely. Tracy comes to help them. This turns the play on its
ear, as in the play it was the blacks who came to Tracy’s aid to get her
a slot on the show.
This leads to the worst
part of a bad movie, a march in the street, not to get Tracy on the
show, but to get the blacks on the show, singing a dirge-like “I Know
Where I’ve Been.” Director Adam Shankman’s march is so amateurish, it
had me thinking of Nelson Eddy and his compatriots marching to battle
singing Sigmund Romberg & Oscar Hammerstein’s song, “Give me some men
who are stout hearted men who will fight for the right they adore,” a
scene that has become a fatuous cliché. At least the Romberg-Hammerstein
song was tuneful with good lyrics. I can’t say that for the music of
Marc Shaiman and lyrics of Scott Wittman and Shaiman.
The color is very good in
this movie. The cars are vintage 1962. I’m straining here to find
something good to say about it. That’s about all I can think of.
This flunked the watch test
in spades. I was looking at mine at least every five minutes.
At best, the music is
forgettable, except for the last number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,”
which wisely sends the audience out the door remembering the only good
thing in the film. The choreography is less than compelling, mostly
people just jumping around, except for the last number.
Poor Michele Pfeiffer is
but a shadow of her former self. She looked to me as if she has an
eating disorder, so emaciated is she. Christopher Walken, who is an
accomplished actor, has a role that is devoid of meaning or content. Why
an actor of his stature would accept such a role is puzzling.
John Travolta plays Tracy’s
mother, Edna Turnblad. This role was played by Harvey Fierstein on
Broadway and he played it as a transvestite. I didn’t see the show, but
apparently he carried the play. Lord knows, it needs something to carry
it. Alas, Travolta doesn’t play it that way. He just plays it as if he’s
an ugly, fat woman. I could see no reason for a man playing the role the
way Travolta chose to play it. Travolta adds nothing to the film, except
for his star appeal and that he’s playing a woman. That novelty wears
off fast. Better they cast an ugly, fat woman.
This is another film that
clumsily bangs you over the head with political values that were not in
the play. You just can’t keep Hollywood down; it must preach and preach
and preach. If only some of them knew Western Union’s telephone number,
maybe we wouldn’t have to endure their simplistic messages, and pay for
the privilege, to boot.