Hairspray (4 stars)

  • The List
  • 16 July 2007

(PG) 110min


Director Adam Shankman appears at last to have found his niche after bestowing clangers The Pacifier and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 on this world.

With his feeling for good choreography (in a previous life he danced with Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson) and his feeling for the mainstream, his colourful version of Hairspray works almost perfectly.

Admittedly, he couldn’t go far wrong, as this is a faithful interpretation of the Broadway stage musical. Fans of the original John Waters 1988 film starring Divine and Ricki Lake should not fret - this is not a remake. This is a film based on a musical which is based on a film. Kapisch?

It’s set in 1950s Baltimore where Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) fulfils her dreams of performing on a local TV dance programme. She then uses her overnight celebrity status to campaign to racially integrate the whiter than white Corny Collins and his show.

The timing was right for a new all-singing, all-dancing teen flick in the wake of Disney TV juggernaut High School Musical. It is probably no coincidence that Zac Efron, star of the aforementioned teen-friendly Grease rip-off, pops up in Hairspray as ‘hunk’ Link Larkin.

As with the original Broadway production, success here depends on the involvement of some big name stars. It’s taken 30 years for John Travolta to be convinced to appear in a musical again, this time trading drag racing in Grease to straightforward drag as Edna Turnblad. Despite an odd accent at times, he is surprisingly endearing. Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken give good support despite the fact that Walken proves that he may be able to dance but he sure can’t sing. By the same token, who would have thought X-Men’s James Marsden - playing TV host Corny Collins - was such a good singer?

With such a broad net being cast to catch a wider audience, the darker elements of Waters’ screenplay are long lost in the pursuit of fun and family. However, this also means that the entire point of the story - segregation in the 60s - is also somewhat underplayed in comparison with Waters’ original vision.

This version of Hairspray is great fun, incredibly mainstream and a welcome break from a summer of sequels and noisy blockbusters. Go on - let your summer be less about explosions and more about the subtle hiss from a can of Ultra Clutch hairspray.

(Darren Scott)

General release from Fri 20 July.


  • 4 stars
  • 2007
  • US
  • 1h 56min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Adam Shankman
  • Cast: Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah, Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelley, Allison Janney, Taylor Parks

Faithful adaptation of the Broadway musical rather than a remake of John Waters' 1988 film. Although darker elements of the story are lost in pursuit of fun and a mainstream audience, this all-singing, all-dancing teen flick shines amid a summer of noisy blockbuster sequels. Travolta's surprisingly endearing performance…