Hairspray is out on DVD today… Its a joyous experience, despite any preconceived notions you might have about John Travolta or musicals based on musicals based on movies or Adam Shankman’s filmography. I wrote a review of the DVD for Exclaim and have posted it after the jump…
After the relative post-“Chicago” funk (see most particularly “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Producers) displayed in big fat Hollywood movie musicals, “Hairspray” comes as a bit of a surprise. Plagued with questionable casting (John Travolta in a iconic queer role eternalized by Divine and reinvented masterfully by Harvey Feirstein), a questionable director (Adam Shankman, previously of “The Wedding Planner” and “The Pacifier” fame) and a questionable audience (only “Dreamgirls” had made any money since “Chicago,” and summer hasn’t been proven as a musical stomping ground since 1978’s “Grease”), the film somehow managed to become not only the sleeper hit of the summer, but also one of the best.
Full of a insatiably feel-good energy and practically vomiting clap-your-hands charisma, Shankman’s reinvention of a reinvention somehow works across the board. The simple if not subversive tale of plump teenager, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky, in an impressive debut), who, despite her size, rises in the ranks of Baltimore’s early 1960s dance culture by way of TV’s “The Corny Collins Show,” a must-see for any local teen. Her journey sends revolutionary waves both through her mother, Edna (John Travolta, who gets by, but whose casting is probably the film’s greatest downfall), an overweight shut-in, and through the city’s separate-but-equal African-American community, who Tracy befriends and helps in their metaphorical quest to be able to dance regularly on “Corny” themselves.
An ode to difference, “Hairspray” is chock full of uber-catchy musical numbers and luminous performances (particularly Blonsky, fellow newcomer Elijah Kelly, and Michelle Pfieffer as the film’s ice queen embodiment of racist America). And much of that is owed to director Shankman, who obviously just was meant to direct musicals and not plastic family comedies. A former choreographer (of “Boogie Nights” and “Buffy”‘s musical episode, no less), Shankman designed all the moves himself and his overambition was not unfounded. Right up to its final show-stopping number, “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” “Hairspray” is an absolute hoot.
And despite the lame title, “The Shake and Shimmy Edition” has a lot to offer beyond the film. An entire supplementary disc is devoted to extras, including a lyric track where you can sing along to the entire movie. And for those less interested in such involved extras, “The Roots of Hairspray,” a three part mini-doc detailing the film’s origins, both in the Broadway musical, John Waters’ film, and the real show the Waters film was based on (“The Buddy Dean Show”) is excellent, offering some great quips by the endlessly entertaining Waters and some truly interesting history. Add that to some decent deleted scenes (including an entire musical number), three docs on the making of the film (with numerous look-its-Toronto moments), and a deconstruction of the choreography, and, well, you really can’t stop the beat.