Thursday, August 2, 2007

The More Musical Remake

Remakes and I don't usually get along, but Hairspray is just too much fun. Before the opening number began, all I was hoping for was a good movie that didn’t ruin the original cult classic. Oh, and I was curious to see how spry John Travolta is in a fat suit. I did get that fun movie, and John Travolta can really shake his moneymaker even in the Edna suit. But I’ll save Travolta and his moneymaker for later. I want to talk about the music.

You had better be a fan of musicals if you’re going to see this movie. "Well, of course, Faith; it's a musical," you say. Oh yes, it is a musical, but it's not musical-light in the slightest. It isn’t one of those lazy musicals that have a couple of songs here and there. The cast breaks out into song at least every five minutes. The opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” set the mood, and the poppy good feeling didn’t let up for the majority of the movie. The only slow number is “I Know Where I’ve Been” performed by Queen Latifah’s Motormouth Maybelle, but its spiritual feel doesn’t bring the movie to a grinding halt. Instead it just mellows you out for a serious note. Unfortunately, that song--plus the shortest protest in history at the television station--are the only real serious notes in the entire film.

This version was definitely more about the music and entertainment, not so much the message of race relations. John Waters’ original has a very strong underlying story about desegregation and acceptance. In director Adam Shankman’s version, this storyline is kind of touched upon but not really deepened. Yeah, Tracy talks about being different and being accepted, but it's more after school special-ly. I really did miss the everyone getting along message, but for a new generation of viewers who are simply looking for a good time at a summer movie, Hairspray definitely fits the bill.

Now let's talk about Mr. Travolta. His portrayal of Edna Turnblad is the only weak link in the cast. He may be quite spry in the fat suit, but he overplays Edna. With his far too exaggerated gestures and odd accent (is that what Marylanders sound like? I don't think so. No one in my family sounds like that), Edna comes off as more caricature than character. I also never got over the fact that I was watching John Travolta in a fat suit. Not necessarily a good sign when he’s supposed to convince me he’s playing someone’s loving mother. Christopher Walken, on the other hand, does a brilliant job of playing Christopher Walken. I’m sorry, I mean Wilbur Turnblad. No seriously, he is brilliant. He steals every last one of the moments he’s on screen, but that isn't a big surprise. Walken has always been very good at that.

Zac Efron, as Tracy’s crush Link Larkin, is so adorable that I just wanted to stick him in my purse and take him home. I think he may have been channeling Michael St. Gerard, the original Link, because his Elvis-like moves are spectacular, and the twinkle in his eye is very geniuine. And speaking of spectacular...Elijah Kelley’s Seaweed blew me away. The guy has got a serious set of pipes and some very slick moves to boot. Queen Latifah, as always, is wonderful. I felt she was a bit underutilized, but when she is on screen, you feel her presence completely.

Then there’s Nikki Blonsky. Like Ricki Lake back in 1988, Nikki Blonsky is new to this whole film business, but you’d never know it. She is Tracy Turnblad, a young girl who just wants to dance and be good. Nikki’s voice is perky and sweet without being artificial, and her dancing is not too shabby either.

If you want something fun, eccentric and a little off the grid, see the original Hairspray. If you’re looking for a big, bright summer movie with tons of music and a few off-color remarks, don’t miss this Hairspray. Oh hell, see them both.

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