By: KJ Hamilton
Hairspray – 2007 – dir. Adam Shankman
It’s 1962 and Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is an overweight high school student from Baltimore, Maryland. She rats her hair and knows every dance step thanks to spending her afternoons watching “The Corny Collins Show” with her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes). She’s also madly in love with the show’s star crooner, Link Larkin (Zac Efron); who doesn’t notice her at school mostly because he’s so wrapped up in his own career. Though her mother Edna (John Travolta) does not approve, Tracy auditions for the show. Initally, she’s rejected because of her weight and her belief in integration. However, Corny accepts her onto the council after Tracy wows him with her dance moves. She soon becomes the most popular dancer/council member. The station manager, Velma VonTussel (Michelle Pfeiffer) is threatened by this, as she goes to great lengths to make sure her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow) is the most visible council member, and to keep the show segregated. However, Tracy shares Corny’s (James Marsden) views on integration: “It’s the new frontier.”
There are several themes that run through this film. On the surface, it’s a story about high school puppy love. Tracy isn’t exactly the most popular girl in school, though she’s wild about Link; who seems just a bit out of her league as he is every girl’s dream. When you dig a little deeper, you find a laundress (Edna) who is so ashamed of the way she looks that she hasn’t been out of the house since 1951. “The neighbors haven’t seen me since I was a size 10.” She declares. Tracy eventually convinces her mother to leave the house, and a new dress and haircut lay the foundation for a newfound confidence. You also find the most popular boy in school, Link, frustrated with his girlfriend, Amber. Tracy’s dance moves and sincerity move him and he eventually falls for her. (Of course, this really only works in the movies.) You’ll also find a girl who’s a prisoner in her own home in the name of Jesus Christ. Prudy Pingleton (Allison Janey) tries her best to control her daughter’s every move. Tracy introduces Penny to her new friend Seaweed (Elijah Kelley); who is Motormouth Maybelle’s (Queen Latifah) son. Maybelle hosts Negro Day—the last Tuesday of the month—on the Corny Collins Show. There are sparks between Seaweed and Penny from the moment they meet.
Further, you’ll find a woman who’s so insecure that she has to control everything; from who’s on the Corny Council to who wins Miss Teenage Hairspray. Velma attempts everything from trying to seduce Wilbur Turnblad (Christopher Walken) to switching the phoned-in ballots the day of the contest. She is so afraid of change that she will not tolerate any of the council members to do any moves that might be seen as suggestive. She doesn’t allow anyone who is different at all to be seen, and flips her top when Corny accepts Tracy onto the council. She even cancels Negro Day—the one day that the Corny Collins Show really rocks.
Segregation and Integration are the main themes of this film. A peaceful protest march on the station ends up with Tracy running from the police; while the news media spread lies about her. Tracy is determined to help because she “just wants tomorrow to be better.” The film does illustrate the kind of ignorance that protesters did have to face. All of them were arrested, and Wilbur bailed them out of jail.
In the end, the show is integrated when Seaweed’s sister, Little Inez (Taylor Parks) is voted Miss Teenage Hairspray. Velma is fired; Edna lights up the stage as she dances on TV; Penny declares her love for Seaweed on live television; and Link and Tracy seal their love with a kiss. It’s amazing how one simple act can change things. It’s even more amazing how much energy is wasted trying to avoid change. I truly enjoyed this film mostly because, for me, it’s a triumph: good vs evil, overweight vs thin, understanding vs intolerance. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen good, overweight and understanding win; as all three are usually ridiculed to no end. Sure, good always wins, but not without a big fight. Oh, and it usually requires a great deal of special effects.