Dance Dance Revolution

I saw the Broadway version of “Hairspray” during the Holidays and it was one of the most energetic shows I’ve seen in the Great White Way. I had such a great time that I knew I had to check out the John Waters movie from which the musical was based.

The setting is Baltimore, 1962. The heroine is a plump teen named Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake). She and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) are both avid fans of the local dance program “The Corny Collins Show.” Tracy surely knows most of the dance moves and there’s nothing more thrilling than being part of the Council, the young and hip regular dancers of the show. When she auditions, she finds a nemesis in Amber Von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick, aka Vitamin C) – an All-American girl who thinks Tracy is too fat to be on the show. Whether Tracy gets in or not, I’ll leave for you to see. But she’ll surely be a major force behind some changes to come. It’s the 1960s after all.

“Hairspray” is one of the few campy films that hit just the right balance of humor and outrageousness. Lead by the exuberant Ricki Lake, the cast is wonderfully spirited. John Waters’ bunch of outcasts is so lovable and so sincere; it’s hard not to be engaged. Certainly, there are cartoon characters here that play as obstacles, but they come off as fun rather than annoying. In supporting roles, the standouts are Divine (who plays the maternally huge Edna), Jerry Stiller (as Tracy’s father), and Michael St. Gerard (the Elvis-looking romantic interest).

The movie also offers its share of nostalgia. The lingo, the clothes, the hairdos, the music, and the dance moves of the times are joyously recreated. For the rest of us, who wasn’t even born at the time, there’s relating to the teen phase. “Hairspray” is also a world of puppy love crushes, fantasies, idealism, and trying to be cool. Oh, and may I add, that the cast of teenagers here actually look like teenagers. With such youthful characters, is there any doubt why the movie is so full of life? By the end of the film, you’ll feel good enough to get up and dance.

Grade: A-

Ricki Lake, Divine, Jerry Stiller, Michael St. Gerard, Leslie Ann Powers, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Sonny Bono, Shawn Thompson, Deborah Harry, and Ruth Brown
Screenplay by
John Waters
Directed by
John Waters
Rated PG