“It’s 1962 and change is in the air in Baltimore. Tracy Turnblad, a girl with big hair and big dreams, has only one passion in life – to dance on “The Corny Collins Show.” When her chance arrives, she grooves her way into instant stardom and the eyes of teen-dream Link Larkin (Zac Efron). But with the program’s scheming stage manager (Michelle Pfeiffer) against her, trend-setting Tracy will need the help of her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes), her bighearted mother (John Travolta) and sassy co-host Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) to show the world that all it takes to make a dream come true is a toe-tappin’ beat and a little Hairspray!”
“Hairspray (2-Disc Shake and Shimmy Special Edition)” is rated PG for language, some suggestive content and momentary teen smoking.
Like the recent unsuccessful adaptation of “The Producers,” “Hairspray” has brought a number of stylistic conventions from the stage where sheer exuberance can successfully carry a light show through the shared empathy of the live audience back to the big screen with it, and not particularly to the film’s benefit. Unfortunately, the filmmaker’s devotion to the not-quite-source material has blinded them to that problem. Their main intent seems to be bringing what they love about the stage show to a wide audience, but the result is more of a film of a Broadway show rather than the film version of a Broadway show, and those are two very different things.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the musical numbers where “Hairspray” excels. Director/choreographer Adam Shankman (“Cheaper by the Dozen 2”) has crafted a series of well-done, if not particularly novel, numbers that take great advantage of his talented cast and generally excellent production design. A duet between teen heartthrob Link (Zac Ephron) and Tracy’s framed photo is a particular standout. They’re colorful, rousing and fun, even if a lot of the lyrics tend towards the banal. However, while the film is composed mainly of song and dance routines, it’s not composed solely of them, and it’s when “Hairspray” stops dancing and becomes an actual movie that the wheels come off the trolley. Despite a talented cast, there is a tendency towards over acting, and the dramatic interludes have all the heft of a 1970s sitcom, and a lot of the same delivery. Some might argue that anything outside of the musical numbers don’t matter, but they do. They completely upset the pace of the film and take the viewer out of the reality being created. Waters worked that problem out by balancing it with darker, harder edged material often within the same scene but, ironically, a lot of the truly subversive elements have been carefully excised, presumably to make the film more appealing to a wide audience. The result isn’t bad, either on its own or in comparison with the original, but it is as light and air headed as it’s pretending to be.
Despite that, most of the cast is too good to do a really bad job. Even though he’s been essentially playing himself for years, Christopher Walken is still fun to watch and “Hairspray” is no exception. It also features the welcome return of Michelle Pfeiffer, whose voice has always seemed tailor made for a femme fatale. But the heart of the film is Nikki Blonski, who is generally impossible not to like and makes her way through the film with poise and grace; her Tracy Turnblad is one of the few actual improvements over the original. Ephron and dancer Elijah Kelly bring a great deal of style to the proceedings as well, but like many of the other supporting players, including Marsden and Bynes aren’t in the film anywhere near enough.
Unfortunately, John Travolta’s Edna Turnblad, apart from one excellent dance sequence with Walken, doesn’t really work at all. He always seems to be putting on an act rather than actually acting, such that Edna becomes this tremendous in-joke that everyone is supposed to laugh at regardless of the context of the scene, but it’s not funny enough to justify killing the suspension of disbelief the way it does.
In alchemy, the transmuting of materials from one form to another would, in theory, distill their elements down to their purest essence. In film, the opposite is true. The more iterations are gone through, the more muddled things tend to get, and “Hairspray” surely suffers from that problem. It’s good at what it does, but not everything it does is good.
Sing along with the movie using the lyric track – Well, this one’s pretty self explanatory. It’s DVD karaoke.
Step-by-step dance instructions – This is self explanatory, too. A choreographer shows you how to do some of the dances from the film.
Deleted scenes including Tracy’s never-before-seen musical number “I Can Wait” – There are five deleted and alternate scenes. The first is “Edna Gets Arrested” and it shows Travolta being arrested and placed in the paddy wagon. There are also three alternate versions of the dance numbers “Welcome To The ’60s,” “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” and “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” featuring just Michelle Pfeiffer. Finally, the deleted song “I Can Wait” is shown. It’s a great song but it does slow down the pacing of the finale and was wisely cut.
You Can’t Stop The Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray Documentary – This is your standard “making of” featurette. They cover the casting, the music, the costumes, choreography, hairdos, production design, and more. It’s a lot of fun to see all the actors practicing their musical numbers.
The Roots of Hairspray – From Buddy Deane to Broadway! – This was one of the more interesting bonus features for me. It showed the original inspiration for the Baltimore dance show, The Buddy Deane Show. They interview the original dancers, talk about how the show became integrated, and more. John Waters explains how it was his inspiration. It then moves over to the original “Hairspray” movie. There are interviews with Ricki Lake, discussions about Divine’s untimely death, and other interesting things. Hairspray On Broadway is featured last. It talks about the development of the songs, the play, the casting, and more. Overall it’s a great trio of documentaries.