In “Hairspray, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is an overweight teenager in 1962 Baltimore. With pep in her step and music in her heart, she’s pays little attention except to her best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes) and her favorite TV dance program, The Corny Collins Show.
Then fate – well detention to be exact – causes her to stumble into an all-Black dancehall where students are showing off their latest dance moves.
“This is so “Afro-tastic,” she exclaims. (Yes, she really says this). Creep factor aside, the green wide-eyed teen seems honestly intoxicated by all the energy she encounters in the room.
Inspired, she puts a little jig in her gig and perfects a few dance moves that come in handy when she auditions for Corny’s show. With assistance from her friend Seaweed (newcomer Elijah Kelley), Tracy gets on the show, angering resident dance Nazi, Amber Von Tussle and her conniving mother Velma (Michelle Pfieffer).
But her excitement is short-lived. Not happy that Black kids aren’t allowed to dance on the show except on “Negro Day,” Tracy sets out to integrate the show. Along the way, she gets the true meaning of rhythm and blues while and, after a while, displays some good ole fashion’ Black soul.
The movie’s casting is rock solid. Some of the characters? That’s another story. Featuring the most unattractive woman played by a man since Wesley Snipes “To Wong Foo,” John Travolta’s infuses Edna Turnblad with a sweet charm, but his overall performance is a mixed bag.
Consisting of high energy songs and performances courtesy of newcomer Blonsky and Kelley, overall, the kids soar. Unfortunately, the film’s politics are suspect. Tracy, the token White girl, gets her cool dance moves from Seaweed and the other the Black kids. Of course, where they live is the “bad part of town.” Finally, to really fulfill every cinematic racial cliché, Seaweed decides to date Tracy’s white friend, Penny, throwing her mother into a racial tizzy!
The film also violates Muscial Film Rule 101: You must have one signature hit to build the story around. Minus that, the film leans on song after boring song, barely moving the story along or adding any real heat to the soundtrack.
“Hairspray” is a short-term toe-tapper. It could never be a true musical heavyweight, but if you like Queen Latifah you’ll enjoy her performance.