I hate remakes. I hate that someone would have the colossal gall to think their
vision of someone else’s work is better. I hate when actors think their
interpretation of someone else’s portrayal of a role is better. And mostly I’ve
been proven right. Take the remakes of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’….just
awful! Same with ‘War of the Worlds’.
But once in a while, I’m proven wrong. Such was the case when my son came home
with the remake of ‘Hairspray’, the film that launched Ricki Lake’s
career, for which most of us have forgiven John Waters, and gave us
arguably the scariest drag queen in history, Divine. I couldn’t believe
they’d had the gall to remake that abysmal, cult classic, and the only reason I
agreed to watch it was because I am a huge John Travolta fan.
Needless to say, I’ve been dining on a steady diet of crow ever since. The 2007
edition of ‘Hairspray’ is, in a word, brilliant. Even after watching it twice, I
couldn’t find a single thing to criticize, and you all know what a rarity that
is for me. I’m still kvetching about the art direction in “Jesus
But ‘Hairspray is a delightful musical that I recommend as a must see,
especially for those of you who want to fondly remember the sixties. The
segregation theme is beautifully balanced by a musical score and dance numbers
that make it hard to stay in your seat. The casting is impeccable. Queen
Latifah comes across as a black Mae West in her vintage costumes, and
Nikki Blonsky brings a charm and ingenuous sex appeal to her lead role.
Her energy and enthusiasm are incredible as is her singing voice. Michelle
Pfeiffer is stellar as the evil, bigoted station executive, and James
Marsden is a perfect amalgam of every saccharine game show host that ever
picked up a microphone. Christopher Walken comes across surprisingly well
as the nebbish father, and even manages to hold his own in a pseudo-Busby
Berkeley dance sequence with Travolta that probably has Fred Astaire
and Ginger Rogers wetting the linings of their coffins.
But it is Travolta, who steals the show. At fifty-three years old, he still has
the moves, and how! Even in the heavy, cumbersome ‘fat suit’ that made up his
drag, he dances with the same grace and sure-footedness that rocketed him to
stardom in ‘Saturday Night Fever’ three decades ago. His Baltimore accent
is dead-on, (and I should know, since my late father was from Baltimore,) and
when he makes an entrance in a pink sequined cocktail dress, looking like a
super-annuated Easter egg, he steals the show. The heavy facial prosthetics make
one forget that’s really Vinnie Barbarino, and the way he bumps and grinds the
enormous foam rubber hips hanging from his frame further add to the deception.
But Travolta aside, the thing that makes this movie fun is the fact that
everyone on the screen is clearly having a good time. It has the magic of a
stage production, and the polish and fast pace of a Jerry Herman musical.
The chemistry between all the actors is like nothing I’ve ever seen in an
ensemble cast. It’s ‘Hello, Dolly’, ‘Sweet Charity’ and ‘Grease’
all rolled up in one; two hours of toe-tapping, grooving fun that deserves a
place in any movie collection, and is on the top of my holiday wish list. But
knowing my kids, I’ll no doubt just get more neckties and Old Spice.
Happy Holidays, and see you all next year!