“Hairspray” (1988) for the holidays

24 December 2011

“Are you big-boned? Have a glandular problem, but still want the glamour?” so asks Mr. Pinky as he invites us all into his Baltimore dress shop, Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway. It’s a nice glimpse into the essential perversions and camp that go into the constructions of John Waters’ brilliant original Hairspray. In this film, teenagers necking in a street corners don’t let those rats interrupt their special love moments. Divine, as Tracy Turnblad’s mother, makes you forget that John Travolta ever tried to reprise the role. And Ricki Lake! She’s a wonder.

She faces fat phobia, of course, but she also faces down racial injustice — and (also of course), she overcomes both. In rollicking early ’60s dance numbers, Tracy shows she can dance the Mashed Potato, the Dirty Boogie, or the Gravy as well as anyone — and by anyone I mean, of course, that vicious Amber von Tussle.

Oh, John Waters, how much do I love you for casting Blondie and Sonny Bono as Amber’s evil, bomb-totin’ parents? For decorating the von Tussles’ home with such a lot of garish glam that I wanted to move in? For making a film so ridiculous that it can make up for all the madness of the holidays?

Look — I’m not blaming you if you like the musical version. I’m just saying that this one features Ruth Brown as Motormouth Maybelle and Toussaint McCall as himself. And it’s arguably Waters’ most user-friendly film ever. Loved every second, and the dancing is to die for. NOW I’m ready for more non-ironic family stuff.

3 Responses to ““Hairspray” (1988) for the holidays”

  1. Hattie Says:

    Oh, I just love Hairspray, the original one. I think I’m going to go watch it right now!

    • Didion Says:

      As I had hours and hours of internet-free, uninterrupted time to think about it, I have now decided that Ruth Brown was shafted by director John Waters, who didn’t let her character Motormouth Maybelle speak in anything other than jive-inflected couplets. (I did quite like her blonde wig and outfits. But that’s a different matter.) A woman of her greatness deserves more.

      Let’s remember how wonderful Brown was as an R&B singer with a quick video:

  2. servetus Says:

    I never saw this, but every time I see a reference to it I can’t help but remember the first time Rikki Lake took off pounds and pounds and pounds. It would have been in the third quarter of 1995 or so. There was an article about her, perhaps in People, and her miraculous weight loss. It referenced her role in a now-forgotten Vietnam war nurse drama, China Beach, and this, and stated that her weight was the thing standing in the way of more career success, but that this role was something that everyone would always remember and that she would have to struggle against it …

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