I went to see the musical remake of Hairspray, back when it was first released in 2007… the blog post I wrote at the time is lost to the tubes now, but I can still remember the general gist of it: “Everything about this movie is awesome… except for John Travolta, who is so awful he spoils all of the awesomeness around him, the way a turd floating in the water would spoil an awesome pool party.” Having watched the movie for a second time, the only correction I would make to that assessment is that I don’t think the rest of it is particularly “awesome” either. While some films can get better with repeated viewings, others can lose their fizz once the novelty wears off… and that is exactly what’s happened here, as far as I’m concerned. Of course, the real critics all rave about this movie, so I’m willing to acknowledge that I’m “wrong” again… but since when did being wrong stop anyone writing a ranty blog post?
For those who don’t know, this all-singing-and-dancing reboot of John Waters’s cult comedy is set in the city of Baltimore circa 1962, and follows the fortunes of a zaftig teenager named ‘Tracy Turnblad’ (Nikki Blonsky), who uses her growing popularity as a dancer on a local TV show to challenge size-based prejudice and racial segregation. She is abetted by her Bible-thumped bestie, ‘Penny Pingleton’ (Amanda Bynes), and enabled by her insecure, shut-in mother ‘Edna’… played by John Travolta. Feh. Last year I picked up a copy of This Filthy World, a DVD presentation of a one-man show that John Waters was touring around in 2006… and in that show, he defends the decision to have men-in-drag playing the character, by asserting that drag queens always portray glamorous, glitzy characters in their acts, so it makes for an interesting change of pace to see a man drag up as a dowdy housewife. Except that British comedians have been doing that for decades… Monty Python’s Flying Circus did it, and Les Dawson did it, and The League of Gentlemen are still doing it! So, on this side of the Atlantic at least, it was already old-hat by the time this movie came out.
It might seem silly of me to try to make this a political issue, but the movie makes a political issue out of kids dancing together on a poppy TV show, so why not? All I see here is a bunch of men cheating another woman out of a job… as if decent roles for women-of-a-certain-age-and-waist-size were so abundant, that they could afford to lose a few! It’s especially ironic in this case, considering how much screentime is devoted to the theme of plus-sized women learning to take pride in their appearance and challenge the world to accept (and love) them as they are. It would be one thing if they’d cast a plump actor in the part, but according to IMDB it took Travolta four hours to put on the fat suit and silicone face prosthetics to become Edna! FOUR HOURS!!! And for what? He certainly didn’t spend any of that time working on his accent, because he still sounds disturbingly like ‘Dr. Evil’ from the Austin Powers movies to me. Gah! I wish I could import a version of this movie from a parallel dimension where they gave the part to Kathy Najimy or Alex Borstein instead!
Sigh… all that aside, Blonsky is fantastic here, Bynes is super-cute, and Allison Janney is great as Penny’s appropriately-named puritanical mother, ‘Prudy’. The songs don’t seem particularly catchy to me, and I’m not convinced they add enough to the experience to justify all the time and trouble it took to remake a perfectly good movie… especially since they took out some of the best jokes too! On a totally random and unrelated note, the dance that James Marsden does (as ‘Corny Collins’) towards the end of “The Nicest Kids in Town” freaks me out. I can’t even describe it… but it looks like something you’d see in a David Lynch flick. Shudder.