We head to Baltimore this week to hang out with Tracy and Edna Turnblad, take on segregation and get off with Zac Efron. Yes, it’s the wonderful remake of The Sultan of Sleaze’s seminal classic Hairspray and everything is right with the world. Except the fact Divine is no longer with us. That bit sucks.
Pleasantly plump teenager Tracy Turnblad teaches 1962 Baltimore a thing or two about integration after landing a spot on a local TV dance show.
You Can’t Stop The Beat.
Tracy Turnblad (Blonsky) is a fat white girl living in Baltimore with her parents Edna (Travolta) and Wilbur (Christopher Walken). She’s #obsessed with dancing and never misses The Corny Collins Show on the local network. Her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) has to sneak out of her highly religious mother’s (Allison Janney) house to go watch the show at the Turnblads’.
The teenage regulars who dance on the show attend the local high school with Tracy and Penny but they’re worlds apart in the social hierarchy. Queen bee Amber Von Tussle (Snow) doesn’t stand a chance with a mother like Velma (Pfeiffer), who works for the television station that produces The Corny Collins Show. Velma uses her position to ensure Amber is center stage at all times – and urges her to keep her relationship with handsome beau, Link Larkin (Efron) “for the cameras”.
While the show and its dancers are all white, it does allow African-Americans on once a month for “Negro Day”, hosted by DJ Motormouth Maybelle (Latifah). Much to Velma’s disdain.
When one of the regular dancers is required to step off the show “for about nine months”, a public audition is held for her replacement. Naturally, Tracy is first in line to try out but has the challenge of persuading her mother to let her go first.
Edna is an agoraphobic who hasn’t left the house for decades, ashamed of how she looks and constantly on a diet. She fears for her daughter while Wilbur is slightly more positive, telling her to go for it.
The audition doesn’t go according to plan though, as Velma brutally rejects Tracy for being fat and supporting racial integration. Devastated, Tracy returns to school where she’s given detention for cutting class. Here she bumps into Seaweed (Elijah Kelley) and some of the other black dancers from the show who teach her a few moves, which she takes to like a duck to water. They instantly welcome her into the fold and tell her she’s got impressive talent for a white chick.
When Link accidentally walks in on them, he tells Tracy about a record hop being hosted by Corny Collins (James Marsden) himself, where she can have a second chance at impressing him. Which of course she fucking does because she dances rings around Amber and the others. She joins the show and quickly becomes one of the most popular cast members, threatening Amber’s chances of being crowned “Miss Teenage Hairspray”. Not only that but Link starts to fall for her, despite the fact she’s fat and everybody knows fat girls die alone.
“Do it now, or forever wish you had.” ~ Wilbur Turnblad
While things are going pretty well for Tracy, who has just become the spokesmodel for Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway boutique – and has even managed to get Mum out of the house and into some damn fine frocks of her own – racial tensions in the city run high. Penny meets and falls madly in love with Seaweed, who is also Motormouth’s son – while Maybelle encourages Edna to take more pride in who she is. Pretty sure I’d do anything and everything Queen Latifah told me to.
Maybelle has just learned that “Negro Day” has been cancelled, so Tracy suggests they march for integration. Link’s not so sure, scared of jeopardising his career but Tracy’s all in.
Will the march serve its intended purpose or will shit backfire in Tracy’s face? More importantly (not really, but for the sake of the story), will she make it to the Teenage Hairspray pageant to take her rightful place as winner?
I love the original more than life but I don’t think this version is too bad at all. The songs are great, Nikki Blonsky is a freaking gem and you know what, I feel as though Travolta really brings his A-game to the role of Edna. It’s soft and nuanced – and I feel nothing but sympathy for her as she suffers with body image issues and confidence.
In contrast, it is delicious to watch Velma get her comeuppance, the racist, fat-shaming bitch. I love how Tracy stirs shit up and doesn’t allow her mother’s indirect insecurities to mess with her head. I find it so heart-warming when the women lift Edna up and her final number is great.
Hairspray looks at serious social injustice and doesn’t shy away from how shit and inhumane racism is – which makes me wonder what a modern Hairspray might look like in 2019. I wonder who’d direct? Imagine a Jordan Peele version?