If you visit this blog for commentary on video games, and the latest news on badass film adaptations of comic and graphic novels, then you’re probably not the ideal, intended audience for Hairspray.

This said, Hairspray is probably the most commercial, accessible movie musical of the past few years. It’s not as arty and frenetic as Moulin Rouge. It lacks Chicago’s cynical, venomous take on human nature. And Dreamgirls’ strutting, bad-tempered R&B divas are noticeably absent. Hairspray is designed to be a happy, crowd-pleaser: a joyous celebration of being different –whether you’re overweight, a social wallflower or an oppressed racial minority.

Honestly one of the big drawcards of Hairspray is the perverse curiosity of seeing late 70s-early 80s hearththrob, and Grease star, John Travolta in drag here as fat, frumpy Edna Turnblad, the painfully insecure mother of heroine Tracy (vibrant newcomer Nicole Blonsky).

Once you get past Travolta’s weird Dr Evil accent, he’s actually credible and quite likeable in the part. Particularly when he comes up against the film’s villain (and, Grease 2 star), Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma von Tussle, an ageing beauty queen who runs the local Baltimore television station with an iron fist. Pfeiffer is great as a 60’s Aryan ideal, viciously opposed to anyone disrupting her thin, all-white, ideal world.

This said, for all of Velma’s scheming, and all round bitchiness, there’s no real sense of peril in Hairspray. Just as with Grease, the audience has a very good idea that everything will be resolved happily by the end of the film. Just as with Grease, the plot here is kept pretty simple – plump Tracy becomes a hit on the all-dancing Corny Collins TV Show and pushes for racial integration. Events are swept along by a series of catchy songs from the hit Broadway musical (based originally on the cult 1988 John Waters comedy). The only time the film’s energy seems to dip is when the racial integration theme starts being pushed more intensely on the audience.

Still, with a mix of talented young up-and-comers (Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelley) as well as big name acting veterans (including Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah and Allison Janney), there’s plenty of star voltage to keep viewers captivated. And the artificial, pastel-shaded world of 1960s Baltimore also makes for some delicious eye candy.

Put simply, Hairspray is colourful, lightweight fun, bursting with energy.


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