Wednesday, September 19

Considering "Hairspray"

What's the point of reviewing a movie that has been out for over a month? That's a good question. A better one is "Why review art at all?" but that is a subject for a later post. For now, be content that I promised my mother, who has commented upon the film to me multiple times, to review it, and I desire to make reviews of the art I experience a regular part of this blog.

Reducing experiences to a simple metaphor is not something I think particularly highly of, as doing so tends to obscure the nuances and wrinkles, but unfortunately, Hairspray deserves it. Hairspray was Mountain Dew. Actually, considering its length, it was more like a 12-pack. (Do these even exist anymore or are we now doomed to burial by 24- and 36-packs from now on?) This movie was a rush of sweet. The colors are bright, the jokes are frequent and less subtle than a slasher movie, and the only thing you can ultimately fault the characters for are being too nice and cheerful. Of course absolutely everything works out in the end, the good guys get what's coming to them and so do the villains.

Which makes the decision to build the plot around black-and-white integration on a afternoon television show an interesting one. Doing so is safe as it ranks near abolition and the right to vote on hot-button racial issues today, but that just makes the two overweight lead female characters such a tease when nothing is really said about that. American obesity is a much more popular issue these days than integration, but it's only played for laughs in Hairspray through Travolta's weakness to it. Effectively, the movie's silence on the issue endorses acceptance but says nothing definite, which is disappointing but not terribly unexpected in something playing for such a large audience.

As this is a musical, Hairspray lives and dies on its song and dance numbers, and one bubblegum song blows full force into the next and the next after that. There was no time to recover in between them. Moulin Rouge!, which ranks very highly on my list of all-time favorite movies, can be fairly accused of the same thing, for the first half hour or so, but it at least has the intelligence to break the songs up a little, distinguish them. Hairspray fails in this department. Barring Walken and Travolta's duet and the protest song, the others just kind of merge into a single mound of gummi bears and are difficult to remember individually now. Even that might not have been such a sin, if it had not been so long. There's a song for everything: Tracy's ride to school, her first advertising spot, her daydreaming of her crush, her escape from the police and that's only one character in this ensemble film. By the end, it begins to feel like they're trying to justify the presence of all the A-list stars in this by giving them their due screen time.

Speaking of such, the acting in this movie was a treat. Everyone, known and unknown, seems to truly enjoy being in this film and it comes out in the zest in their acting. The only reason no single character doesn't overpower the others is because all the rest are pushing back and playing it up just as hard. Travolta as Tracy's shut-in mother deserves special mention for giving it his all in what must have been absolutely miserable pieces of make-up and costuming to act in.

On the topic of musicals, I've heard that both Moulin Rouge! and Chicago were both supposed to revive the genre. Does this make Hairspray another aborted start or part of the revival these earlier Oscar nominees preciptated? As I'm on the topic, if this the beginning of a revival, I am interested to see if they go in the direction of this remake of a Broadway remake in brashness or that of the more realistic Once, which I still bleeding want to see.

1 comment:

Emmett said...

I haven't seen it, so I can't add anything to the review, but I have a funny story associated with hairspray.
My friend and I were hoping to see another movie, I can't remember which, but we were too late. Our only options at that point were Hairspray and Stardust. I just wanted to leave but my friend persuaded me that we should still watch one of them. I mentioned that if we saw Hairspray, we would be getting Travolta in drag, but at least with Stardust we could see Robert de Niro. Yeah. Turns out de Niro does drag in Stardust. Good choice, us.