Brittany Snow gets sprayed…all in a day’s work.
So, as you probably know, the ’60s glitz-tastic movie-musical, Hairspray comes out today, and, really, what kind of gays would we be if we didn’t discuss?
John and I actually saw the movie together; he, the Hairspray-vet, a fan of both the ’80s Ricki Lake and Broadway versions, and me, the total ignoramus, who had never seen either production and couldn’t name one song.
But we both had good things to say (well, some not so good too), so check out our back-and-forth review after the jump.
But first enjoy this clip of Queen Latifah singin’ the praises of being "Big, Blonde and Beautiful."
And don’t miss our review…after the jump!
JOHN: I brought a lot of baggage—good baggage, mind you—to this movie. I remember seeing John Waters’ original film ages ago (“introducing Ricki Lake!”—imagine!) and loving it. Wasn’t there a scene when the Beatnik chicks (including Pia Zadora) were ironing their hair and getting stoned and talking about Odetta? It was fab. And Divine starring as Edna Turnblad was bliss.
I also loved the Broadway musical. I saw it when it opened, loooved Harvey Fierstein in the role, and it really ranks up there as one of my favorite Broadway experiences ever!
So I was prepared to be a stern judge. And that skepticism is manifest in my dislike for the casting of John Travolta. My issue has nothing to do with politics or Scientology, I just think as an actor he’s miscast. That said, the movie is utterly fun, and they’ve done such a good job and by the end it wins you over. But at the risk of sounding Grinch-like, I still think they could have cast someone way better as Edna. Travolta’s not funny, and he looks like a big weird muppet—or like Grimace in a wig! It’s weird… Yes, he improves (or grows on you; ewwww…) as the film progresses, and he seems to really find himself in the character during the film’s later dance numbers, but still, his bizarreness on-screen (and his weird attempt at a Baltimore accent) distracts from the action.
How is it that Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence can drag it up and be big and funny, but for this role, they got Battleship Earth leftovers in the dress? Eh?
Tracy teaches her Edna to "think big;" if only Edna weren’t so scary.
COLIN: Going into Hairspray, I had nothing with which to compare John Travolta’s Edna portrayal…and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. But I am sure that Travolta was the worst part of the movie for me. I liked the movie, but I thought he was straight-up awful. I was either cringing from having to look at him or rolling my eyes at how un-funny his delivery was, especially next to Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken or Nikki Blonsky, who I thought were all really good.
And I agree with you completely, John; he looks like a scary muppet. He doesn’t even look human, and I hate that he’s the movie’s “big name” and that all the posters are of his freaky-ass face. I mean, Edna’s not supposed to be scary, right?
Oh, and he cannot sing…at all.
JOHN: Actually, what’s weirder is that John Travolta can sing. Watch Grease! But when he’s trying to his weird Edna voice, he flounders. Alas…
JOHN: I love some Queenly action, but even though she’s playing a soulful matronly activist type in this film, I felt like we got a very safe and vanilla Latifah in this movie. Motormouth Maybelle should have a little bit of sass and edge to her, but Queen was just all kindly and safe. I wanted a little more rasp in her repertoire in this one.
COLIN: When I think of Queen Latifah in a musical, I can’t help but remember her amazing, amazing job in Chicago a few years back. And while she was fine as Maybelle, it was nothing like her Mama Morton role…but I’m not sure it was really her fault. She had a big part and enough screen-time to give her more of a character, but I feel like she didn’t really have one – that most of her lines were wasted. Maybe it’s just the way they wrote it.
I’m with you John – she should have been more raw. Because I love Queen, and I know she can do better.
JOHN: All that said, her numbers are fun. “Big Blonde and Beautiful” was hot, even if lots of the lyrics (which are saucy and actually kind of trashy and hot) got swallowed by the production number. And her big march ballad “I Know Where I’ve Been” is maybe the heart and soul of the film. Attagirl… I wanted to grab a sign and march and go integrate the popcorn stand in the lobby!
Maybelle lets Edna know those three Bs are all you need.
COLIN: I thought Nikki was fantastic – I heard she beat out thousands of hopefuls for this part, and she totally deserved it. She embodied that unpretentious fun that made me like the movie as a whole. She came off so genuine on-screen, and, of course, she’s an amazing singer and dancer! She totally out-shined the big names.
JOHN: I lived for her, too. She had me at “Good Morning Baltimore!” during which she grabs you by your Ginch-Gonches and just reels ya in. The bit with her riding on top of that garbage truck as she arrives at school is cinematic fierceness. Nice way to arrive, Nik!
Also, Tracy’s character should be a mix of winsome, innocent fun with a hint of bad-girl spunk, and she had both down. Please, please, please let’s see more of her on film… Maybe she’s this year’s Jennifer Hudson? You are gonna love her…
Other cast worth commenting on?
COLIN: You know who was better than I thought she would be? Amanda Bynes. And I never thought I would say that because Amanda Bynes really bugs me. She was cute and funny, and even though she barely sings or dances (which was probably for the best), I actually thought she had some of the funniest lines in the movie, and she delivered them really well. I loved her singing about how she’s had black with Seaweed and is never going back, and that line asking Queen if she’d met her crazy, ultra-religious mom.
Penny falls for Seaweed’s charm right off the bat, despite her mother’s…conservative ways.
JOHN: I loved Elijah Kelley as Seaweed. He’s foxy, can move amazingly, and he’s totally charismatic, cute and can sing! I’m jealous of Penny Pingleton. And speaking of the Pingletons, I would have loved to see more of Prudy (Alison Janney). Jackie Hoffman made that role on Broadway completely legendary, and Alison Janney was on her way to following that, but she didn’t have enough screen time. Bring on the DVD, I want more Bible-thumping Prudaciousness!
And hey, I’m not sure I knew that pretty-boy James Marsden could sing. Nice! Plus, it was fun to discover not only is he gorgeous, but he’s good at being simultaneously cheesy, ingratiating, subversive and a bit naughty. I approve!
Your favorite number
COLIN: I really liked “The Nicest Kids in Town;” I thought the number was so sweet and exciting. Tracy and Penny running home from school to catch the show that was their only reason for living, it was all really cute and cheesy and fun. James Marsden was great, and I loved all the ’60s, variety show-ish, way-too-peppy children on The Corny Collins Show. Then to have Tracy and Penny dancing along like it’s the coolest thing ever – that was just so funny.
The Nicest Kids in Town!
JOHN: I’m partial to the opener, “Good Morning Baltimore,” but I’ve always loved that one. But I think my total favorite number in the film is “I Can Hear the Bells” in which Tracy unravels as she realizes she’s falling for Link. The little montages are cute as it follows her through her day at school as she’s obsessing about and playing out their fantasy courtship. And it’s got one of my favorite lines of music in the show: “Round three’s when we kiss inside his car, won’t go all the way but I’ll go pretty far!” Love that!
COLIN: Yeah…you can probably guess: That would be the miscasting of John Travolta! And I never even saw Divine, so I imagine I would be even more outraged by Travolta’s performance if I had. Again, his singing was so bad, and he was so weird-looking! But I don’t know…The audience seemed to think he was funny and laughed at his costumes like they were so hilarious and outrageous. He just made me uncomfortable.
JOHN: Er, yeah… Travolta. And I was sad to see the number “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now”—which on-stage was a trio of mother-daughter duets between Edna and Tracy, Penny and Prudy, and Amber and Velma—cut form the movie. It’s so great! “No! Don’t! Stop! Pleeeeeaase!”
Nikki and Penny wish every day could be Negro Day on Corny Collins…too bad Baltimore’s a little behind.
COLIN: I have to say, I really liked a lot of Amanda Byne’s moments: I loved her interactions with her crazy mom, I loved her sweet, fun friendship with Tracy, and I loved Seaweed coming to her rescue after being tied to her bed.
JOHN: Overall, I’d say they did a great job adapting the story from the stage musical to the screen. Yep, some things got cut (like the part where all the lead female characters get thrown in jail, and the corresponding “Big Doll House” number) but they morphed the plot into a concise, comprehensive story pretty well. Props for that!
COLIN: I thought this movie was so fun, and I definitely left in a great mood. I appreciated they didn’t take themselves too seriously and just set out to have a good time. I’m not even a musical fan, so I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I thought the music and dance numbers were really good too. And other than Travolta, of course, I was pleasantly surprised by the Hollywood re-casting – Michelle Pfeiffer, James Marsden…even Zac Efron and Amanda Bynes – I thought they were all very good and fun to watch.
JOHN: Little gay 11-year-olds all around the country will probably worship this movie. I think it’s sort of how like when I saw Grease as a wee lad, I fell in love with it. Hairspray has a really big heart, and it’s pretty fun to get caught up in its exuberant, kitschy musical spell. Yep, there are things I’d change (I won’t mention Travolta again. Oops.), but it’s a really likable film. The music and spirit of it is so positive and upbeat, it’s pretty irresistible.
Link (carefully) touches his always perfectly-coiffed hair.
And is it gay?
COLIN: Umm…other than being a high-energy musical with lots of wigs and sparkle-y costumes, I didn’t think there was anything gay about the movie. I don’t know if the 1988 version was either, but I didn’t pick up on any gayness in this one. The John Travolta cross-dressing didn’t appeal to me or feel gay – again, he didn’t even seem like a human being. Having an actual drag queen like Divine play that major role might have given it that gay edge, but I didn’t feel it here.
JOHN: I’d agree. The quirky, queer subversive vibe that pervades all of Waters films has been neutered in the movie-turned-musical-turned-movie process. So, aside from kitschy visuals and a man in a dress (which isn’t played for any obvious gay humor at all) there’s not much real gayness onscreen. Sure, pretty much every one involved in getting the film made (John Waters, the crew and creators of the Broadway show, songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, the director Adam Shankman) is gay, gay, gay… But this really is more of a feel-good film for the whole family. And issues with John Travolta’s casting aside, gay families will probably enjoy it, too.