Sunday, February 10, 2008

Poofed Up

One of the great things about having a blog is the chance to catch up on films that came and went in the blink of an eye -- or, in the case of Hairspray, to reevaluate a big hit that I had the opportunity to see in theaters last summer. ("Wow, that was....energetic," was my initial, dizzied response.) If anything, the movie's joyfulness won me over even more the second time, with John Travolta's polarizing performance even more weirdly touching. Anchored by big-haired Nikki Blonsky's tone-setting, infectious work in the lead, Hairspray may have the best cast for a musical in years: Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah, Zac Efron, James Marsden and Elijah Kelley all have their moments. (Kelley, in particular, has the potential to become a big star.) About the only actor I didn't care for was the beloved-by-everyone-else Allison Janney, who lays it on as thick here -- a liberal's cartoon idea of an evangelical -- as she does with her "nail technician" in Juno. I'm also not sure how we're supposed to take Tracy fleeing the scene of a racial protest march while the cops start arresting everyone else. Still, Hairspray moves at such a fast clip, and is so open and accepting, that its more messagey elements never weigh it down. The director, Adam Shankman, has been quoted as saying something to the effect that he loved the Broadway musical so much that he prayed he wouldn't screw the movie version up; other than a few glitches with the climax (the camera being so far away it's hard to see the integration between the black and white dancers), he succeeds in making the viewer what Pauline Kael would have called "crazy with happiness."

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