I wouldn’t usually consider myself a fan of musicals. Some I like, some I don’t, but there’s no special affection. Hairspray had me hooked from its first infectious beat. That great opening scene where Tracy walks to school, singing the praises of her city completely drew me in. From there it was a non-stop 2 hour love affair.

Hairspray is just infused with such exuberance and positive energy that it’s impossible to keep the smile off your face. It’s the epitome of a feel-good movie but it’s not schmaltzy or cheesy: it earns its goodwill. It has a simple but well-executed message of tolerance and following your dreams and that music and dancing is toe-tapping and dazzling.

The performances are pretty good and where lacking at least the actors really threw themselves into their roles. John Travolta picked up a Golden Globe Supporting Actor nod, but I didn’t think he was that strong. I did very much appreciate how much fun he had in his cross-dressing role- there was no holding back there. The Baltimore accent sort of faded in and out but I just about fell out of my chair laughing when his first line was, “Would you keep that racket down? I’m tryin to arn in here!” Nikki Blonsky also got the Globes love though again I only found her decent. I’m certainly hoping to see her in more films in the future though.

Both of them got passed over at the Oscars and in fact the film didn’t even notch up any nominations in the technical categories. Costume seemed like a good chance. Musicals often get nods for Sound Editing. An original song was entered into that category. Travolta’s fat suit could’ve gotten recognition in the Makeup category (though I guess the fat suit appreciation went to Norbit). But it got zilch, and that’s a shame.

Back to that opening number. I’m a big fan of the city of Baltimore and I’ll be one of the first to defend it. It’s a surprisingly neat city with a lot of blue-collar charm. But the lines “Good morning Baltimore/ Where every day is an open door/ Every night is a fantasy/ Every sound’s like a symphony” left even me scratching my head. But at least the welcoming rats, drunks, and flashers felt much more realistic.

A few other numbers I loved:

  • The introductory scene to the Corny Collins show with James Marsden’s huge, blinding smile and Brittany Snow’s character stealing the spotlight.
  • The scene where the black students show Tracy, Penny, and Link their dance moves and take them on the school bus to their neighborhood (that dance on the bus is nifty). Elijah Kelley and the adorable Taylor Pinks as Little Inez shine through.
  • The sock hop where Tracy shows off her new moves and gets discovered for the show. The song from this scene, “Ladies’ Choice,” is a fast-paced number that I think is the best in the movie. This scene segues into Tracy’s first appearance on TV and I admit I kinda squeed along with her parents when she was first introduced.
  • The protest led by Queen Latifah’s Motormouth Maybelle has a lot of soul and passion. I found it very effective and fairly moving and the song is superb and rousing.
  • And, of course, the big finale, from Tracy’s surprise appearance, to Little Inez’s big win, to John Travolta really shaking it on the dance floor. It’s about 15 minutes of non-stop dazzle and the song is catchy as all get-out.

As much as I loved the music, I’ve taken a listen to the cast recording from the original Broadway show and it’s not very good. This isn’t a case of the people behind the film half-heartedly adapting already stellar material. I’ve disliked several film adaptations of Broadway plays because they were too much like watching a stage show (see: The Producers) and if I wanted to watch the stage show I’d go see it. They’ve taken the original show, taken it up several notches, polished it up, and really made it its own film.

Adam knocked the plot, but I found it more than adequate. Not a lot of complexity can be expected in a musical. It’s a nice, straight-forward tale with obvious good and bad guys and in the end the good guys bring about social change through song and dance. We’re not exactly going for realism here. Simple is better in a movie like this; its small scope keeps the action moving. I saw Dreamgirls again soon after Hairspray and the former is a perfect example of trying to do too much. It’s way too busy and comes off like a two-hour montage that glosses over most of the character development. Besides a gratuitous love triangle (the weakest part of the film), Hairspray keeps it to-the-point.

Going back to the Oscars for just one second, I think the producers blew an opportunity here. Two original songs were written for the film. The aforementioned “Ladies’ Choice” was even released as a single for Zac Efron, but was not eligible. Either it did not meet an eligibility requirement that I’m unaware of or the producers didn’t submit it. This is a great, fast-paced, so catchy it’s criminal song that got overlooked for the tune over the closing credits, “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go),” which is one of the weakest songs on the soundtrack. And naturally it was not selected by the Academy. Plus “Ladies’ Choice” brings the added bonus of an Efron performance on the telecast if it were to be nominated, and that means tweener ratings gold. (I’m just going to type Zac Efron again and again in a shameless ploy to draw hits.)

And can we talk about Amanda Bynes for a few minutes? What is it about her that is so enchanting? I don’t think she’s a superb actress- she overacts in everything. She even oversings in this film, adding some weird vocal flourishes to the “Without Love” and “Can’t Stop the Beat” numbers. Yet she drew me into so many episodes of the absolutely terrible TV show “What I Like About You.” And it’s not just that she’s hot.

She is of course, but everyone in movies is hot. However I think I’ve solved the riddle:

She waaaaaaay over-emotes. She takes any emotion and dials it up 50%. Especially in her eyes: she’s either got them as wide as saucers or she’s very deliberately blinking too frequently.

And yet it’s strangely endearing. Pay attention to the scene where she runs to tell Mr Turnblad that Tracy’s about to be on TV, the look on her face is priceless.

Those screen grabs don’t even do those shots justice. And in the movie she adds a squeak. So ridiculous/adorable.

To sum up, I loved this movie. I think for about two weeks nothing else but the soundtrack got played on my Rhapsody account. I watched it on a Friday and then when my sister mentioned wanting to see it I watched it again on Saturday (and I liked it even better the second time). It’s the first film from 2007 I’ve bought and it’s something I hope to share with my children some day.

One final note in regards to a discussion about dancing in the comments of Jared’s Hairspray post: a little birdie slipped me a video of Jared dancing in more innocent times. Enjoy.

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