Before watching Hairspray (rated PG for language, some suggestive content, and momentary teen smoking), this reviewer wondered if it would be uncool to, well, like a movie with a kitsch Beatnik theme. But the foot-tapping musical set in 1962 Baltimore is too much fun to dislike.
This year's Hairspray is a remake of the 1988 John Waters film that turned into a popular stage musical. It follows overweight but bubbly teen Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), who dreams of making it onto the American Bandstand--like dance program, the Corny Collins Show. She does, but her desire to see blacks and whites mix-along with her unconventional body shape-rattles the show's villainous producer, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her catty daughter, Amber (Brittany Snow).
Along the way, Tracy learns some hip moves from her African-American classmates, gets the blue-eyed guy, and realizes that one "Negro Day" doesn't make for real racial integration.
With gay undertones, Tracy's heavy mother Edna is traditionally played by an effeminate man-this time, it's a coy John Travolta. His voice never quite exits the male register, sounding more like an anguished Danny from Grease. A fat suit on his 6-foot-2 frame also makes him look like a faintly female leviathan.
Hairspray is supposed to be Grease for this generation, but it carries a moral: something the heavy-smoking, sexually liberated Pink Ladies would have found square. In the end, its message is tolerance-for fat kids, different races, and pretty much anyone who does not conform.
The message comes with a requisite Hollywood cliché: Prudy Pingleton, the ultra-religious stiff and mother of Tracy's best friend. She tries to reform her race-mingling daughter by tying her up and making her listen to prayers on vinyl records. All this might be boring PC subtext, but the song and dance, often edgy humor, and good-natured characters carry the story. Just sit back and enjoy the music.