Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online. He can be reached at claycane@gmail.com.


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    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Being a hardcore John Waters fan I was skeptical about the movie-musical version of Hairspray, which is a Waters masterpiece from 1988. John waters is an icon and of course I couldn't tolerate John Travolta filling the shoes of Edna Turnblad, which was previously filled by legendary drag queen Divine. In addition, I was afraid the movie would lose its edge under the direction of Adam Shankman. Sure, there were some pluses with Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer (she was adopting African babies before it was popular!) in the cast, but any remakes of John Waters is a recipe for disaster.


    I was completely wrong...Hairspray is the feel-good movie of the summer, great cast, beautiful voices, good plot and an unforgettable performance by Nikki Blonsky, who plays the lead role Tracy Turnblad.

    Hairspray is the story of a hair, race and music in a 1960's segregated Baltimore. Tracy Turnblad stars as the pleasantly plump dance diva whose only desire is to dance on the squeaky clean Corny Collins Show. However, after she makes the show and becomes a dance fav, she is distu
    rbed by the segregation of the more talented, soulful black dancers, who only get one dance day a month. Tracy declares she wants, "Everyday to be Negro Day!"

    Tracy is inspired by her father, played by Christopher Walken, and told to give up on her dreams by her mother, the buxom Edna Turnblad, played by John Travolta. While I adore Divine's 1988 performance, Travolta definitely made Edna his own. Being that the movie is a musical, which the first one wasn’t; Edna is reinvented into a dancing, singing mama unsure about her daughter’s "revolutionary" ways.



    Travolta delivers and not for one minute did I believe there was a man under the dress. I know their has been some controversy about Travolta being homophobic and even mention to boycott the film, but like John Waters said, “If [Travolta] was homophobic dancing in that fat suit with as many gay people as are working on this film, he would have had a heart attack and been dead. First of all, he is playing a loving mother, not [the late gay politician] Harvey Milk.” Tell it like it is, Johnny!

    Queen Latifah plays Motormouth Maybelle, which was originally played by the legendary Ruth Brown. Latifah doesn’t have the vibrancy of Ruth Brown, who came from the era that Hairspray is about, but Latifah does manage to bring a sensitivity to Maybelle, which is incredibly touching especially during an integration march where Latifah let's out a power ballad for freedom.

    Michelle Pfeiffer is perfect as the icy Velma Von Tussle, originally played by Debbie Harrt, an in your face racist who uses words like "natives" and "savages”. We also get a powerful performance from new-comer Elijah Kelley as Seaweed, the young man who in
    troduces Tracy Turnblad to the "Negro" side of town and inspires her rebellion. Kelley is the soul voice of the cast, belting out aggressive tunes, proving he has a career well beyond Hairspray. Thank God they didn't cast Chris Brown, Mario or some other teen R&B singer!

    Hands down, the Effie White/Jennifer Hudson of 2007 is Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad. She outshines everyone in the cast, reinventing the role that was popularized by Ricki Lake. To my surprise, this was her first movie role and it will not be her last. I think a Golden Globe nomination is inevitable and she might even be able to knock down the "big girl" curse that plagues Hollywood.

    As I mentioned, I am not a fan of musicals, but this is quite possibly the best musical in the past ten years. It completely knocks out Moulin Rogue, Chicago and Dreamgirls with one spray of extra-strength Aquanet.

    Overall, Hairspray is a family movie, but with a bit of camp and politics. It's not filled with singing dialogue; the musical sequences move the story forward and prove the transition from Broadway to movie is impossible. While I try to offer a balanced critiqued in all of my reviews I can't think of any criticism for this movie — I love how this version is more political and overtly deals with race. However, I am a purist so I enjoy the 1988 original more, but the musical is nearly a different version in script, delivery and tone. The 2007 version of Hairspray offers an original appeal, leaving audiences completely satisfied. If you haven’t seen SICKO (no on should be allowed to see another movie till they see SICKO), be sure to check out Hairspray.

    4.5/5 stars!

    Hairspray is in theatres nationwide today.

    Here is a clip of my favorite song from the movie "Big, Blonde & Beautiful" performed by Queen Latifah.

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    Posted by Clay :: 12:00 AM :: 5 comments

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