Just when you thought modern storytelling couldn’t get any more cannibalistic, along comes a movie based on a stage musical based on a movie.

How do you judge a screen musical? If you don’t walk out humming the tunes to yourself (or belting them out loud) has it failed? Hairspray’s a whole lotta fun – bright, colourful and a little dim-witted, like all musicals, though perhaps the song writing department is its major let down.

HairsprayNikki Blonsky is radiant as Tracy Turnblad, the girl that dreams of one day singing and dancing on the Corny Collins Show. This is Baltimore in the 60s, and whilst civil rights are going through a period of change, the high rating show only features black dancers on designated ‘Negro days’. Not only does Tracy’s rather plump form not conform to the stereotypical TV ideal, she seems to be all in favour of integration, so she’s gonna have a hard time getting famous (but no trouble getting infamous). Tracy’s parents are played by Christopher Walken and John Travolta (the latter in drag), and they are merely adequate where they could have shined. Their duet is rather dull once you get past the idea that Walken is serenading Travolta, which is a pity cos it had the potential to be a true showstopper. Amanda Bynes plays Tracy’s best friend, and am I making it up or is there a tradition of rather significant supporting roles in musicals being almost devoid of singing? I suppose she wouldn’t be a very good friend if she stole the limelight too often.

Michelle Pfeiffer is superb as station manager Velma Von Tussle, and she positively annihilates her so-so performance in Stardust with her supremely confident and obnoxious turn. James Marsden is certainly showing another side of himself here – it’s taken me a while to shake his portrayal of apparent dickhead Cyclops in the X-Men movies. Finally, Zac Efron is sickeningly just like the type of poster you’d find on a teenage girl’s wall.

I enjoy seeing a comedy take on serious issues rather than sit through a pretentious and/or dull Oscar-hopeful drama, and Hairspray very simply points out how silly segregation was by virtue of its own silliness.

I haven’t actually seen John Water’s original film, but I’ve gathered that it is the most accessible of his features; though I’m sure this musical version is still toned down. This film had me grinning like an idiot, even if I didn’t retain much after I left.

Rating: 3 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 27th September 2007
Hoopla Factor: 3.5 stars

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