Hairspray (New Line Cinema) isn’t quite Grease—an all-singing, all-dancing event so irresistibly vulgar that it promises to single-handedly revive the movie musical for a new generation. But neither is it Dreamgirls—a bland, high-minded slog that serves only to remind you how moribund the genre is. Jam-packed with song-and-dance numbers (around 24 in all, including four songs that appear only in the closing credits), this movie-turned-stage-show-turned-movie-again is intermittently tasty, if a little too frantically eager to please.
It’s 1962, and Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is a chubby, beehived Baltimore high-schooler with a lifelong dream of dancing on The Corny Collins Show, a local daytime version of American Bandstand. She bounds out of bed singing the movie’s first and perhaps catchiest number, “Good Morning, Baltimore,” an infectious ode to Charm City delivered whilst skipping past sleeping bums and scurrying vermin on her way to school. Sent to detention for “inappropriate hair height,” Tracy learns some down-and-dirty new dance moves from Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), whose mother Maybelle (Queen Latifah) hosts The Corny Collins Show’s monthly “Negro Day.”
At a public audition, Tracy dances her way on to the program, but her plus-sized body and cheerful affirmations that “every day should be Negro Day!” make her the sworn enemy of the show’s prissy princess, Amber (Brittany Snow), and her awful mother, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), an avowed segregationalist who produces The Corny Collins Show. Fat acceptance and civil rights keep cozy company in this movie’s hard-to-disagree-with politics: If you can love your big blond beautiful self, it seems, loving your darker-complected brother is sure to follow.
Director Adam Shankman’s adaptation of the stage play based on John Waters’ 1988 cult film preserves little of Waters’ signature yuckiness. (Michelle Pfeiffer’s character never pops her daughter’s zits, for example, nor does the heroine perform her final number in a pink gown patterned with giant roaches.) But to be fair, most of the de-weirdification already happened on the way to turning Waters’ kinky satire into a hit Broadway show—and Waters himself, who appears in a two-second cameo as the neighborhood flasher, seems to look kindly upon the project’s new incarnation. Despite its wholesomeness, this version stays remarkably true to the spirit of the original, with one size-60 exception: John Travolta as Edna Turnblad.