The Civil Rights movement is felt with young vitality in Hairspray. A movie version of a Broadway musical based on John Waters' 1988 movie sounds uninspired. But the broad reach of Adam Shankman's version brings Waters' kitsch into a euphoric, populist gesture in the High School Musical era. It's a great teen movie.
For Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky), her dreams of dancing with the youth idols of local daytime TV's The Corny Collins Show seem out of reach for her full figure and Jackie O hair. Despite the discouragement of her shut-in mother (John Travolta), Tracy makes it—becoming an outsider hero. Hairspray's promotion of accepting difference extends not just to others, but the freak nature within the protagonists.
As Tracy uses her newfound power to promote black and white dance integration, Hairspray hits upon how youth often take healthy curiosity in other races through pop culture.
Marc Shaiman, who wrote the soundtrack to South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, gives the musical numbers a high-spirited bounce. If you want the ideological difference between Shankman's approach and Waters', it's that when Waters made Hairspray he was cleaning up his act to make his first PG-rated movie. It seems Shankman and his crew have to take the opposite route: They're getting down and dirty to make Hairspray.
It's a distinction in values between the filmmakers that might be worth getting hung up on if Shankman didn't approach Waters' pastel, manufactured America with such charge. Musical numbers like "Run and Tell That" and "You Can't Stop the Beat" absolutely kill. Casting the role of Edna Turnblad, once held by Divine, with another male actor (Travolta) is necessary to uphold Hairspray's defiance of middle class appearances. The casting illusion that makes Tracy's parents a gay couple gets accepted and then forgotten as Travolta disappears into the female role. Michelle Pfeiffer as a greedy station manager contrasts Christopher Walken's zany, laid-back dad. Amanda Bynes escapes her mom's paranoid repression. And Zac Efron is the heartthrob who falls for the girl nobody expects. The young and old cast division creates a colourful world of people and ideals.
It's an abstraction of an era made resonant, contemporary and purely joyful. Don't be surprised if it's the next big thing.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
A gay costume party at the midpoint of I Now Pronouce You Chuck and Larry marks the kind of alternative celebration John Waters and the Farrelly Brothers thrive on: Its energy is so infectious it makes the conservative ideal of "normal" seem insane.
It's a mistake to assume this new Adam Sandler and Kevin James comedy is homophobic. Chuck and Larry's crime is it doesn't maintain its most audacious bits and it's never funny enough.
Sandler and James are NYC firefighters pretending they're a married couple so they can reap insurance benefits. Along the way, they become advocates of their pretend lifestyle. When James visits a classroom on career day, the kids' cruel questions about his sexuality are bad comedy, but the scene works because it's pitched at a deeper level: it registers hurt. The remainder of the film falls into good intentions squandered by awful writing and sitcom misunderstandings.
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