Watched Jul 26, 2012
I have mixed feelings about this one.
I've just recently seen the John Waters original film and I loved it. This movie pales in comparison. Still, the songs are good and its nice enough.
The original movie handles the social commentary very well - without ever turning into a sermon or a white savior movie or making black people seem like, as Tracy calls them here, 'the new frontier'. This remake of Hairspray is less successful as a social justice movie even when it tries so much harder to make a serious point. Also, if the movie was trying to be serious then you wouldn't know it from the ending. The entire film maintains it's dignity despite a few lame jokes until a rather ludicrous, overly campy ending which erodes a lot of the good will the story had.
Still, for all those negatives the song sequences are truly great. Just off the top of my head 'Welcome to the Sixties', 'I Can Hear the Bells', 'New Girl in Town' and 'Without Love' are all great memorable sequences that are as good an advertisement as any for the return of one my absolute favorite film styles: the movie musical.
The acting is all over the place. John Waters cameo is great, Jerry Springer's small role feels just like a consolation. Michelle Pfieffer works in the Debbie Harry role but I think she overacts the part and I've never been her biggest fan anyway. John Travolta I definitely like. I don't love him but I do like him. And I respect him a lot for talking on this part. Still, he's no Divine and his performance here as the mother is as awkward as it is brave. Christopher Walken is hilariously Christopher Walken. He feels almost like a parody of himself at this point, but nevertheless he was very enjoyable. Queen Latifah can be a bit much but I still do like her and she's fine in this. Amanda Bynes is cute, I do like her (although I don't think she could carry a movie). She was well-cast here and is one of the standouts. Elijah Kelley is charming as Seaweed although he's decision to wink three times in the same song number was not, in my opinion, a good one. Zac Efron winks a lot in this movie too - but I think he gets away with it. I've always been a fan of his, especially after seeing Me and Orson Welles. He's very fine here. Finally, taking over for Ricki Lake in the original Nikki Blonsky is quite great in the lead. She's charming and very good singer and actor.
The dancing isn't as good in the original film, which is filled with music even though it's not a musical. The dancing isn't bad but it felt very half-hearted. I was quite confused especially by the little black girl who's supposed to be a great dancer. She rarely dances in the film and the sequences seem designed so that she can look like she's dancing a lot without actually dancing. That's a shame, if this movie could have retained all the greatness of the original and just added songs it could have been truly excellent.
Still, despite the movies undeniable flaws, Hairspray is funny (most of the time) and the song sequences are great (most of the time). This isn't on the same level of John Waters great original but it's still worth a single viewing, in my opinion.