Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hairspray (2007)

God, I hated this movie. I mean, I knew going into it I was going to hate it, but I had to see it out of curiosity. I may have hated it even more than I expected to.

Some of that is just my personal tastes and prejudices. I love the original Hairspray. In fact, I'm starting to think it might be my favorite John Waters movie. What I love most about it, of course, is the soundtrack. It takes place in a period of rock history that's often derided or overlooked, the pre-Beatles 60's. Most histories of rock glide over this period of schmaltzy pop, novelty songs and dance crazes. But John Waters obviously has a great affection for that period, and he dug up some great records for the film, from the kooky dance crazes to the hard rhythm & blues played on Negro Night, and including at least one genuine lost classic: "The Bug."

On the other hand, I hate showtunes. Just can't stand 'em. So when you replace these obscure rock n roll songs with cheesy Broadway melodies, you've pretty much lost me before we even get started.

The other big problem is, of course, Travolta. He's not just bad, he's unwatchable. I can't think of a worse case of miscasting in any movie I've ever seen. I didn't even get any trainwreck enjoyment out of watching him clumsily stomp over his last shred of credibility left over from Pulp Fiction. He easily brings the whole movie down a notch (I'd give it a 2, and if there were someone appropriate in the role, I'd surely go a 3 or 4). It wouldn't even have to be a guy--can you imagine Roseanne in that role? Actually, that wouldn't work, because she can't sing, and anyway, she wouldn't be right for this Edna Turnbladt. They've greatly expanded Edna's role, and yet made her much more boring. But really, I can't even judge these changes for themselves, because Travolta is SO FUCKING BAD.

They've made quite a few changes to streamline the story, and I guess most of them make sense for the movie this is. One improvement is that Tracy gets on the Corny Collins show because she's learned dance moves from black kids, which makes more sense to the themes of the story. Also a good idea getting rid of Sonny Bono's character and making Debbie Harry's character more of an active villain. But losing the bomb-in-the-boufant gag? That's the best joke in the movie, but maybe it wouldn't work outside of John Waters' universe. And this is definitely not in that universe, despite the references to flashers and bums in "Good Morning, Baltimore." They are just that--quick references which fade immediately into the background.

Waters' film was a "lesson" movie, for sure, but it didn't really feel like one because it indulged so many quirky ideas. Here they lose the wig bomb, the crazy beatniks (although Tracy still shows up with flattened hair at the end), the psychiatrist, and replace them with MORE feel-good afterschool-special messages. And it sucks.


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