Hairspray (1988) was my mild cinematic introduction to the wonderful world of John Waters. I had heard of him before then, having seen an episode of The Incredibly Strange Film Show that had host Jonathan Ross interviewing the great man, but it would be some time before I started to delve deeper into his filmography. To be honest, I still need to see a LOT of his pre-Hairspray films, often forgetting that I haven't seen them because of already being familiar with some of his more (in)famous moments.
Despite Hairspray being quite possibly the tamest film that Waters has ever done, I was still surprised when it was turned into a stage musical. And when that musical version was adapted into a film I was more than just surprised, I was ever-so-slightly outraged. This was also before I was more at ease with the internet. I had less spaces to verbalise my anger and metaphorically stamp my feet about the whole thing. Thank goodness.
Because Hairspray is a lot of fun. Directed by Adam Shankman, it's a film that retains the simple, and wonderful, plot of the original film, adds a selection of decent tunes, and allows a number of stars to have a great time playing larger than life characters.
Nikki Blonsky is Tracy Turnblad, a young girl who dreams about a chance to dance on her favourite local TV dance show, hosted by Corny Collins (James Marsden). That chance comes to her at last, unbelievably, and she starts to do well on the show, which makes her an enemy of Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been doing her best to ensure that her daughter (Brittany Snow) is the star dancer on the show. Tracy also finds herself in trouble when she becomes active in the growing movement to end racial segregation.
With a tweaked screenplay by Leslie Dixon, and the play by Mark O'Connell and Thomas Meehan to work from, Hairspray works so well because it translates the (I assume) upbeat and fun sense of the live show to the screen with canny casting and vibrant production design throughout that provides 1960s Baltimore as the setting for the proceedings, as well as populating the city with plenty of colourful characters.
And what a cast of characters we get. Blonsky is a sweet lead, and does well with the singing and dancing. Her parents are played by John Travolta (Edna) and Christopher Walken (Wilbur), and both of them have a lot of fun with their characters. Marsden is also having a whale of a time, playing Corny Collins as a sweet and cheesy host with the most, while Snow and Pfeiffer attack their "baddie" roles with great relish. Amanda Bynes, Elija Kelley, Zac Efron, Queen Latifah, and Allison Janney fill out the cast, with all of them given enough good moments to make them worth spending time with.
As unexpected as the origin of this movie is, just be thankful it got made. I still prefer the original, it's a bit sharper and more twisted, but this is a brilliant reworking of the material to appeal to a potentially much wider audience (who might also eventually check out the 1988 film).
You can buy it here.
Or, in the ol' US of A, buy it here.