31 July 2007

Review: Hairspray

Genre: Musical

Ah, Hairspray, Hairspray, Hairspray...what can I say? The at-root premier summer flick turns tricks and slides with quavering aplomb. The fantastical musical from the stage lights up the silver screen with a zesty array of colors whose over-ingestion can leave one feeling queasy. Or, the hot dazzler from the annals of C-movie (i. e., "fun movie") history fails to mark a great improvement over its previous versions. All of the above?
It strikes me, yes, strikes, to take this perhaps cruel but nevertheless playful tact in describing what I thought about the similarly light-hearted romp that is this summer's Hairspray, for the fact of making - no, not a comparison, but rather - a contrast. That is, whereas I can at least attempt a sparkling smile while I do maintain a strong undercurrent or grounding to my progression of story/argument, the film alas cannot. The film is frothy, bubbly, sometimes daring 'cloyingly effervescent,' but it is hardly ever strong, solidly grounded, a "tour-de-force." It is, as if the cast and crew, wanting so badly to lighten themselves with a great number of balloons, overdid it and/or forgot to calculate and thereafter as a result found themselves whisked away, not heavy enough to keep their feet on the ground. They just simply have no consistent plot; instead, they present merely a whisper of serious storyline (i. e., racial integration during a climate against such wholesomeness, which could expand to acceptance of everyone, whoever they be, despite opposition) sporadically, intermittently between fly-away musical numbers, perhaps just to remind the audience that they are indeed watching a film and not a musical revue.
Despite this fact, it is true that the musical numbers are for the most part incredibly infectious in their good spirits. The songs, taken directly from the Broadway version of the show, do reach a much fuller expression in the film, as (I suspect) they are now not limited by the capacities of an orchestra pit or of an orchestra for that matter; their symphonic convergences do exist to a radiantly refined state. The dancing as well, surprisingly fairly shot (unlike in Chicago), stands out as rhythmically break-out, involving the audience into the work and so demolishing the dividing wall. And the costumes, make-up, and art direction ice the cake, utilizing gorgeous contemporary colors and textures, to enliven and realize the 60s pop appeal.
However, I believe, it still remains the undermining flaw of the film, that there is no strong, grounded face to provide the pop with the necessary, contrasting bass. In short, there can be no true "pop," because there is hardly anything tranquil, somber, or regulating out from which the happy, bursting songs and dances can effectively pop. It's just not balanced. Thus, the film can hardly expect to garner sincere praise as being anything other than a 'feel-good,' 'sing-a-long' whipped cream and, thereafter, I can only determine that its attempts at being otherwise ultimately only detract from its quality: The racial tensions of the 60s look simply too serious, even silly, and definitely out of place in the context. The bottom line: I did enjoy Hairspray but I was too distracted by the extreme tilt of its mood, to actually appreciate what I assume it was trying to say. Egalitarian asseveration cannot come in "lite."

Grade: B-

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