Hairspray (2007)

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It’s been decades since the Hollywood musical had any color in its cheeks. (Mostly we’ve seen pale, Oscar-glomming adaptations of stage hits that still seemed conceived for the proscenium arch rather than for the movie screen.) What a pleasant surprise, then, that Hairspray (an adaptation of an adaptation) makes such a great Saturday matinee. Ostensibly it’s a starstruck, follow-your-dreams story of a chubby Baltimore girl who turns American idol by shaking her rotund groove thing on local television. But the third act is all about the function of R&B music as a vehicle for desegregation in the civil rights era. Some of this is in questionable taste–the racial stereotypes are cheerfully outrageous–which makes the film’s evident bigheartedness all the more dazzling. Director Adam Shankman is an experienced choreographer who moves his song-and-dancers smartly through all three dimensions along with the camera. The attending grown-ups (John Travolta in fat drag, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah) lend an agreeably commercial appeal, but Hairspray is at its nimble best when the youngsters, led by exuberant newcomer Nikki Blonsky, are allowed to carry it. As long as the kids are on screen, it feels like the music never stops. B+

This review was originally published in the White Plains Times.

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