Alright, I’ll just come out and say it. The remake of “Hairspray” is great. There. Maybe it’s because my expectations were high, maybe it’s because I’m such a fan of the original “Hairspray,” or perhaps it’s my utter obsession with everything Brittany Snow, but “Hairspray” is damn good. The music is energetic, the pacing is competent, and shit will you find yourself tapping your feet from minute one. I was hoping it would be good, but in a way I also wanted it to fail. The original “Hairspray” is my favorite John Waters film after all, and I just didn’t think anyone could live up to it. You have great references to the original, Michelle Pfeiffer returning to the musical genre, and John Travolta in drag once again doing what he does best. I don’t think there’s much to hate in this. Sure, in the end it pretty much attempts to take away the surreal atmosphere Waters inserted, but hell the acting, the choreography and pretty much everything is top notch.
And it also helps that there aren’t many modern musicals that are above mediocre these days, so “Hairspray” is a great breath of fresh air and ranks somewhere behind “Once.” Some people may enjoy it more than the original, and that’s great, but the original still holds a candle. Moving on, “Hairspray” sets down in 1960’s Baltimore where Tracy Turnblad dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins show. And in spite of her considerable girth and the antagonizing of spoiled snob Amber Von Tussle, she becomes a sensation which she risks in favor of the Civil Rights movement. Thankfully while this film is a bit toned down in terms of racial epithets, the civil rights themes are still here and very powerful. What the writers do is emphasize the character of Motormouth Maybelle and her children who manage to pose an important role in the battle for equality based around ending the “Negro Day” at the Corny Collins show and just letting everyone in to dance.
Queen Latifah gives a great performance as Maybelle who doesn’t rhyme everything she speaks, but is a dignified African force of nature who wants bigger things for her people. As much of a fan I am of Christopher Walken, and trust me the man is versatile, he just doesn’t hold a candle to Jerry Stiller. In here, he’s simply a grown man acting like a fool, when in the original Stiller embodied this immature childish persona who somehow managed to raise a socially aware and intelligent daughter in the process. Walken has very little to do here, and as a cast member he contributes very little, even though the parents this time around don’t play much of an important part in Turnblad’s life, beyond Edna. In the category of “Huh?”, the whole plot device of Velma attempting to break up the Turnblad’s marriage through seducing Mr. Turnblad not only made no sense, but had no overall importance in the bigger picture.
It was merely padding, and a way to give Michelle Pfeiffer a reason to further demonstrate her singing abilities. Upon a second glance, her musical number is overwrought, unnecessary, and completely questionable. What was the point of Edna appearing at the house setting it up to have Edna come in during an inopportune moment just for Walken’s character to make up with Edna only minutes later? It simply added no forward motion. “Hairspray” is a lot of fun, regardless, and as one who tends to dislike most modern musicals, it says a lot that I had goose bumps for most of the running time. Shankman takes the stage persona and combines it with almost the same camp and surreal kitschy quality of the original and brings us an awfully raucous little adaptation of the musical remake of the original. It’s a confusing equation, but a fun movie. Hell, this movie was great, I’ll happily admit. It pays respect to the original while also carving its own image as a truly good musical. It’s a possible contender for one of my favorite films of 2007, and almost competes with “Once,” as the best musical on the last ten years. It’s worth a watch for fans and casual movie-goers.