If ever there were a happy summer movie, it's Hairspray. But for all its bubbly musical numbers and effervescent good humor, this film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical feels oddly lacquered - it's John Waters by way of Disney.
Hairspray adheres closely to the storyline in Waters' 1988 cult film - a pleasantly plump teenager, Tracy Turnblad, becomes the unexpected star on a segregated Baltimore dance show circa 1962 - but its gee-whiz homogenization of adolescent sexual desire and racial politics is from another movie. The original Hairspray was nostalgic without being saccharine. While there's nothing offensive about the wholesomeness of this new Hairspray, you wish that it didn't feel as if every hair were in place. Even the very white villains in the piece, ice queen Velma Von Tussel and her bratty daughter, Amber, are more annoying than deliciously nasty in their hatred of overweight and black people.
Comparisons between the female leads in Waters' original film and this version are inevitable. As Tracy, Nikki Blonsky looks the part and can sing up a storm, but she lacks the spunk of Ricki Lake, who really made you believe that big was beautiful. John Travolta has some pretty large shoes to fill in the role of Tracy's hefty mother, Edna, given that the late Divine made the part her own as only she could. A heavily made-up Travolta aims for a more realistic portrayal, and it works for the most part. There's sadness in this insecure woman, who's so ashamed of her plus-size appearance that she won't leave the house. And when Edna finally lets loose in the film's finale, there's a joy onscreen that rocks the house. Who ever thought someone in a fat suit could be so nimble and full of life?