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24 July 2011

Hairspray (1988)

Directed & Written by: John Waters
Genre: Comedy, Family
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Although this isn't a musical, but since I did the musical remake I thought I'd review the all dancing original. I loved the remake, and it was the one I seen first. Now I know how much of a brilliant remake it is. It nailed several of the things made in this one and my rating is a little bit higher for this film because of it’s striking originality and comedy. Director John Waters may not be a box-office booming director but his films feel sincere and warm of the craft of filmmaking. He enjoys what he does and what he writes is great. Hairspray (1988) is full of fun comedy that pokes fun at the oddity of the early 60’s, before the Beatles, before LSD’s and hippies. Waters both wrote and directed this film and did a great job at depicting the 60’s. The characters are funny, the story is simple, but shows the discrimination against black people which is the film’s important message towards the end. The film features Ricki Lake, Deborah Harry, Divine and a whole lot of great other actors. It’s a delightful fun film that is comically well written.

"The Corny Collins Show" is a hit with all the teens in the Baltimore of the early '60s. Appearing on the TV dance party as one of the esteemed "Council" is the dream of local fat girl Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake). Naturally, her obsession with the show drives her parents (Divine and Jerry Stiller) crazy. As luck would have it, Tracy does become part of the Council. This makes snobby blond Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick) livid, especially when Tracy steals her boyfriend, Link (Michael St. Gerard). Amber is still intent upon winning the Miss Auto Show Beauty Contest, and her parents (Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry) will stop at nothing to make sure it happens. When racial tensions and integration issues threaten to tear the town apart, Tracy is made a scapegoat and jailed—right before the big pageant.

One thing very early into the film I was laughing about was seeing Divine dressed up as Tracey’s mother. I was unaware that the original had a man cross-dressing as Tracey’s mother, and when I watched the 2007 Hairspray I was thinking, “Whose idea was it do put woman’s clothing on John Travolta?” Well now I know, and while I think Travolta was funny and believable, Divine’s performance is the original and is slightly funnier and more resonant. He also played another character, being the big fat TV producer Alvin Hodgepile. Divine appeared in many of Waters films in the 80’s, but this would be his last. Divine died on February 1988, clearly not long after production and the sad fact is he was only 42 years old. Ricki Lake was just wonderful as the big, blonde and beautiful Tracy Turnblad with a very fabulous presence. The characters are resonant and memorable with sincere and comical flare.

The wonderful thing Waters did was create the whole Baltimore-Hairspray world. From the 2-foot high hairstyles to the classic vintage cars of the 60’s the authenticity Waters nailed greatly. This beautiful inventive style would soon be used in his next film Cry-Baby, a film that mock’s the 50’s/60’s style and also features a young Johnny Depp as Cry-Baby Walker. Many critics who grew up during the 60’s loved this film and basically understood what it was saying, but even though I was not there, I find this film fabulously inventive and funny. In the town of Baltimore there is a shop called Hefty Hideaway’s a clothes store for big framed women, and it’s comical honesty was hilarious. The name itself is cleverly funny is well. Hefty, meaning heavy and hideaway describes overweight people’s escaping. One of the many great things Waters wrote into the story. 

The film has plenty of funny moments and the performances all over where charming and warm. Now knowing what a good director Waters is, I will certainly be checking out more of his films, he may not be the best, but his films are reasonably enjoyable. The actors are best when they avoid exaggeration and remain weirdly sincere. That way, they do nothing to break the vibrant, even hallucinogenic spell of Mr. Waters’ nostalgia. It is charmingly funny and bright and is thoroughly deserving of it’s cult status. Filled with nostalgic music and great comedy it’s a fun film for the ages.

My Rating: 8/10

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