Busting onto the screen with a catchy ditty called “Good Morning Baltimore,” Tracy Turnblad (engaging newcomer Nikki Blonsky) declares her love for her city, singing, and dancing while strutting her stuff down the streets of Baltimore circa 1961. She’s a happy girl with a healthy appetite who can dance better than the kids on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV program made up of white teenagers with perfect teeth and perfect figures. Tracy’s given the chance to prove she has what it takes when one of the show’s female dancers is forced to take a nine-month leave of absence (wink-wink).
Our girl Tracy quickly figures out that what’s going on on the show isn’t fair and shouldn’t be tolerated. Velma’s more than just an obnoxious loudmouth; she’s a racist who won’t allow Corny Collins to integrate the show and only reluctantly puts up with the ‘Negro Day’ broadcasts. One day a month Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) takes over for Corny (James Marsden), spinning records and hosting talented dancers who don’t conform to Velma’s ‘whites only’ standards. Taking up the cause, Tracy proudly proclaims that every day should be Negro Day and joins Motormouth Maybelle and her friends to work on ending segregation – at least at the TV station.
Christopher Walken plays Travolta’s wife and Blonsky’s father, the owner of a joke shop who is totally dedicated to the two women in his life and doesn’t care one iota what size dress they wear. Walken’s a Broadway veteran and he gets to show off his nifty song and dance skills opposite Pfeiffer and opposite Travolta. Pfeiffer’s so deliciously evil you want to boo-hiss her off the screen and Queen Latifah is better utilized in this than she was in Chicago, and for that film she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Nikki Blonsky was working at a Cold Stone Creamery when word came that she got the coveted role of Tracy in Hairspray. Director Adam Shankman wanted to hire a fresh face to play the part and Blonsky nailed the auditions. She also nailed the performance in the film. Blonsky’s got that special indefinable something and it’s fairly certain she won’t be a one hit wonder.
The Bottom Line
Thank goodness movie musicals have re-emerged as a legitimate form of escapism. This decade has given us Moulin Rouge and Chicago, which then paved the way for Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Dreamgirls, and now Hairspray, which comes close to being the best of the lot (Moulin Rouge still has it beat on the basis of screenwriting and depth of story). There’s one show-stopping number after another in this entertaining and infectiously fun movie that’s unabashedly campy and simply delightful.
Hairspray does come close to trying too hard to please and to say the film hammers home its messages is a huge understatement. But the exuberant performances of all involved and the fantastic choreography by director Adam Shankman manage to save the film from slipping over the edge. Hairspray’s catchy melodies and bouncy, energetic dance numbers will have even the most cynical movie patrons breaking into smiles and tapping their toes.