When Hairspray originally debuted on screens in 1988, people thought it was weird for a John Waters film. That is saying a lot. Waters (A Dirty Shame, Cecil B. Demented), was notorious for outrageous, lowbrow, boundary pushing movies (he has since calmed down considerably and almost feels like an anachronism), and all of a sudden releases a bright, happy movie that was fine for most people. And it even tackled social issues! Hairspray later made the move from the big screen to the stage, and now returns to the big screen.
The result is something that is far more enjoyable than one would expect. Hairspray is just a lot of fun. The music (songs and lyrics by Marc Shaiman) are poppy confections that are catchy, and people will find themselves tapping their feet and bobbing their heads along. Even though the movie touches up racism, there is still a bizarre feeling of innocence - it probably has to do with the setting in the 60s. Either way, director Adam Shankman (Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Pacifier) and adapter Leslie Dixon (Just Like Heaven, Freaky Friday) cram a lot into a movie that seems shorter than it is. The only time Hairspray slows down is when it stops to tackle more serious issues.
Hairspray revolves around Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), a heavyset high schooler who adores The Corny Collins Show, and in particular, the dreamy Link Larkin (Zac Efron). Every day, Tracy and her friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes, She's the Man, Robots) rush home to watch Collins (James Marsden, Superman Returns, X-Men: The Last Stand) and other people dance. Little do Tracy and Pingleton know that the show's producer, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer, Sinbad, White Oleander), schemes to keep the members of the show white, thin, and beautiful. A space opens up for a dancer on the show, and Turnblad, much to the disgust of Von Tussle, tries out. Her dancing is great, and she impresses the more progressive Collins, and wins a place on the show.
The Corny Collins Show is Tracy's gateway into her burgeoning adulthood. She befriends Seaweed (Elijah Kelley, Take the Lead, 28 Days), an African-American and dancer on Negro Day, which happens once a month on Collins' show. She doesn't understand why blacks and whites cannot share the same show, and why they need to be separated by a rope when they dance. Bright-eyed Tracy, full of hope and inspiration, envisions a colorful melting pot where everybody can dance and have fun. Tracy's mother Edna (a dragged up John Travolta, Wild Hogs, Lonely Hearts), hasn't left the house in years. She disapproves of Tracy's dancing, but there is something about it that intrigues her. Over the course of nearly two hours, Shankman has his cast dance and sing their way into even the most jaded audience member, climaxing in a rousing dance-off where Tracy takes on the resident WASP bimbo. It's a lot of fun, and goes by a little too quickly.