2007-08-24 / Columnists


"Hairspray" - Little Ball Of Fire
Review By Robert Snyder

The big revelation in the movie, "Hairspray," is not so big…plump is more like it. Long Island discovery Nikki Blonsky was scooped up from her job at Cold Stone Creamery to star in and steal the new version of the hit musical of the 1988 John Waters' camp film classic, "Hairspray."

Short, pudgy, but packed pound-for-pound with explosive talent, Blonsky bursts on the screen in the opening song about her love for 1960's Baltimore and never stops for the next two hours. She's a singing and dancing, fiery butterball of entertainment.

Directed by Alan Shankman ("Cheaper by the Dozen 2"), Blonsky leads the formidable ensemble cast through a slew of rollicking roll 'n roll numbers about teen Tracy Turnblad's dream of being a dancer on the "American Bandstand"-esque "Corny Collins TV Show." It's "Grease," but infinitely hipper. Despite the gloss, Waters' eye for the offbeat is still evident. After all, the counter-culture filmmaker first made his mark (or marked his territory) by having transvestite Divine actually eat dog excrement in 1972's "Pink Flamingos."

Chunky adolescent Tracy (Blonsky) is determined to live her dancing fantasy. However, too fat for the show's bitchy producer Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), Tracy is bounced from the audition. Before long, she finds herself in high school detention, where her stuff-strutting jives with black detainee Seaweed J. Stubbs (Elijah Kelley). Her moves are also noticed by Collins show regular, the ever-so-cool Link Larkin (the ever-so-cool Zac Efron). All this adds up to another chance at the show, where Corny himself (James Marsden) sees Tracy's talent and books her, to Velma's dismay.

There's also a whole integration theme to the film. Tracy's bubbling embrace of all things free and fun breaks the racial barrier of the show. Thanks to Velma, the "Corny" policy only allows African-Americans to dance once a month on "Negro Day," hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). Tracy and Seaweed make mincemeat of the repressive protocol, when they musically merge the color scheme to Corny's delight.

Into the mix come Tracy's parents Edna (John Travolta in drag) and Wilbur (Christopher Walken), who are supportive, but stymied by their fear of confrontation with the thin, white status quo. Both bring in a decidedly Watersian element. Walken's Wilbur is obsessed with his party joke store featuring whoopee bed cushions and fake dog poop-Belgian waffle candies. Edna is shutin, neurotically worried about her weight, hoping that Tracy forgets her dream and avoids ridicule. Travolta's Edna is hilarious, though his fat suit makes him look a bit like Barney the Dinosaur, particularly during the big dance finale.

Don't miss "Hairspray." It's a must-see musical, making little Nikki Blonsky a big star.

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