Friday, July 20, 2007

HAIRSPRAY (2006) - so much fun!

HAIRSPRAY is about as much fun as you're going to have at the cinema this summer - joint-equal with DIE HARD 4.0. This movie-musical adaptation of the cult-classic John Waters flick had me laughing, crying, tapping my feet and bursting with energy. It's a movie so chock-full of energy, good-feelings and right-thinking I just don't know how anyone can object to it. And all the negatives I can think of, aren't really negatives at all - rather, the fact that film-makers didn't have time to do more!

John Waters is famous a trash film-maker - as the man who filmed obese drag-queen Divine eating dog-shit. And HAIRSPRAY also revels in human detritus, with it's close-ups of rain-streaked Baltimore suburbia, rats running among the garbage bags, and Waters himself taking a cameo as the friendly neighbourhood flasher. Water's philosophy has never been a Candide-like delusion about how grim life really is. Rather, he wants us to embrace the shittiness of life and our strange differences. Come through smiling - come through fabulous! This is why I've always found Waters' films perversely uplifting. After all, his misfits - gays, ethnic minorities, over-weight people, cinephiles - have always triumphed over the uptight world that tried to hold them down. His message has always been that differences are beautiful. Or to quote the demonstraters in the original HAIRSPRAY - "Segregation never: integration now!"

Adam Shankman's new adaptation of the musical based on Water's original film is true to the spirit of the original. It opens with obese but perky teenager Tracy Turnblad waking up in shitty 1960s Baltimore. It's an era of racial segregation and WASP conformity. She sings and dances her way to school happy in her own physical appearance and determined to become a dancer on the wildly popular Corny Collins TV show. The opening number sets the pace for the rest of the film. The lyrics are witty, the tunes are catchy and lead actress, Nikki Blonsky, is captivating. The rest of the musical sees her over-come a string of prejudices. She helps her mother regain her confidence; helps her best-friend escape from her prejudiced mother and date a coloured boy; and successfully integrates the Corny Collins Show. Oh yes, and she wins the heart of the dream-boat boyfriend of the Waspy blonde.

There's nothing not to like in-front of or behind the camera. The costume design is cracking - especially regarding Michelle Pfeiffer's shiny, spiky outfits. She's like a Size Zero, frosted version of Dolores Umbridge. All the actors and absolutely superb, including a surprisingly moving performance by John Travolta behind the latex as Edna. Perhaps most surprising on the up-side - purely because I haven't seen him in much - is James Marsden proving his gift for comedy as Corny Collins. Most disappointing was the lack of screen-time for Amanda Bynes and the lack of song and dance time for the genius that is Christopher Walken. But absolutely everyone is upstaged by a tiny cameo from Alison Janney as Penny Pingleton's religious zealot mother. Definitely the funniest role in the film. And if you want pure gut-wrenching emotion, check out Queen Latifah's anti-racism anthem, which Shankman is sensitive enough to shoot in a relatively straightforward style.

HAIRSPRAY is on release in the UK and US. It opens in Israel next week. It opens in Argentina, Italy, Russia, Denmark, France, Singapore, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands in August and in Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Iceland, Spain and Brazil in September. It opens in Japan and Turkey in late October.

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