Hairspray (1988) - Rotten Tomatoes

Hairspray (1988)



Critic Consensus: Hairspray is perhaps John Waters' most accessible film, and as such, it's a gently subversive slice of retro hilarity.

Movie Info

Forever interested in the kitsch built into past eras, director John Waters chooses the TV dance show craze of the early '60s for his playful focus in Hairspray. Ricki Lake plays Tracy Turnblad, just one of several alliteratively named characters coming of age in 1962 Baltimore, where "The Corny Collins Show" is the most popular American Bandstand-type program, watched by hundreds of young dreamers each day after school. Being chosen to dance on it is the ultimate status symbol and every young girl's dream, and Tracy improbably wins a featured spot when she infiltrates a dance contest and makes a better impression than her favored rival, the catty Amber von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick). Always able to have fun, even when she's being mocked by the jealous popular girls, Tracy wins the affections of Amber's boyfriend and soon begins leading a movement to integrate the dance show, which has previously featured blacks only in a once-weekly theme night. She is arrested following a demonstration at a local theme park owned by Amber's father (Sonny Bono), who subscribes to the same theory of race relations as "The Corny Collins Show." Tracy's adventures are also filtered through her loving but eccentric parents (Divine and Jerry Stiller) and involve a humorous cultural clash with pot-smoking beatniks (Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora). ~ Derek Armstrong, Rovimore
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Musical & Performing Arts, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: John Waters
In Theaters:
On DVD: Nov 5, 2002
New Line Home Entertainment


as Edna Turnblad/Arvin ...
Ricki Lake
as Tracy Turnblad
Sonny Bono
as Franklin von Tussle
Ruth Brown
as Motormouth Maybelle
Vitamin C
as Amber Von Tussle
Michael St. Gerard
as Link Larkin
Deborah Harry
as Velma Von Tussle
Leslie Ann Powers
as Penny Pingleton
Jerry Stiller
as Wilbur Turnblad
Shawn Thompson
as Corny Collins
Ric Ocasek
as Beatnik Cat
Pia Zadora
as Beatnik Girl
David Samson
as WZZT Official
Leo Rocca
as Governor
William Rose
as Amusement Park Patro...
Mary Vivian Pearce
as Hairhopper Mother
Joey Perillo
as TV Secruity Guard
James Parisi
as Governor's Aide
Alan J. Wendl
as Mr. Pinky
Kim Webb
as Carmelita
Michael Willis
as Governor's Mansion N...
Brook Yeaton
as Tough Guy #1
George Stover
as Governor's Mansion P...
June Thorne
as Von Tussle Picket
Darrell Taylor
as Governor's Mansion P...
Carolyn Walker
as Trinklette #3
Lori Keith Douglas
as Lead Lafayette
Joseph Eubanks
as Governor's Mansion P...
Holter Graham
as I.Q. Jones
Brenda Alford
as Trinklette #2
Jeff Gardner
as Tough Guy #2
W.H. Brown
as Governor's Mansion P...
Rick Anderson
as Von Tussle Picket
Scheryll Anderson
as Amusement Park Patro...
Mark Oliver
as Geometry Student
Susan Lowe
as Angry Mother
Patrick Mitchell
as Teen Street Fan
Matt Myers
as Singing Bum
Mary Jefferson
as Street Lady #1
Charlie Hawke
as Amusement Park Patro...
Peter Koper
as Governor's Mansion P...
Kevin Joseph
as Joke Store Customer
Rosemary Knower
as Mrs. Shipley
Kim Webb
as Carmelita
John Waters
as The Psychiatrist
Patrick Mitchell
as Teen Street Fan
Colleen Fitzpatrick
as Amber von Tussle
Brooke Mills
as Lou Ann
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Hairspray

Critic Reviews for Hairspray

All Critics (40) | Top Critics (6)

When Divine's Edna Turnblad is on-screen in the sleeveless dresses she's partial to, the movie has something like the lunacy of a W. C. Fields in drag.

Full Review… | May 28, 2008
New Yorker
Top Critic

Not only Waters's best movie, but a crossover gesture that expands his appeal without compromising his vision one iota; Ricki Lake as the hefty young heroine is especially delightful.

Full Review… | July 16, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Waters' most hygienically commercial film is a Retro schlock-fancier's delight.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The actors are best when they avoid exaggeration and remain weirdly sincere. That way, they do nothing to break the vibrant, even hallucinogenic spell of Mr. Waters's nostalgia.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Perhaps Waters' best known movie.

Full Review… | September 3, 2015
Times (UK)

While it's corny by design, Hairspray also aims to get at something truthful, about the various kinds of prejudice [...] and how youthful optimism and music made a difference [...].

Full Review… | March 10, 2014
The Dissolve

Audience Reviews for Hairspray


Without a doubt, this is John Waters's best film, and he crafts something that is quite enjoyable, funny, entertaining and well worth your time. If you're familiar with Waters' filmography, you'll notice that he was more an exploitation, trash director who made some of film's most bizarre films. With Hairspray, he makes his most accessible picture, a film that is highly enjoyable, well acted and with a good story. The film may not be a perfect effort, but it does manage to be an entertaining film while using the theme segregation and racial issues as its backdrop for its story. With that, I thought it brought something serious to a comedy, and the way it handled it was very well done. John Waters has made his finest film yet with Hairspray, and this is a highly amusing entertaining film that is one of the finest musical comedies that I have seen. Every actor here brings something wonderful to the screen, and it's a satisfying film that will certainly appeal to any viewer looking for a pleasant time waster. Hairspray works well because it's a witty, funny picture with a message and it is a film that shows us that John Waters is a capable director who was able to shift from Exploitation to a more mainstream type of movie. Hairspray is worth seeing, and it's a film that surprised as I didn't expect to really enjoy it, but I did. If you're uncertain about John Waters, give this film a shot, it's easily one of his most accessible works, and with many well thought out characters, it's a memorable musical that ranks among the genres finest films.

Alex roy

Super Reviewer


A plus-sized teen dance sensation campaigns for "Miss Auto Show" and agitates for integration in 1963 Baltimore. This mockingly saccharine PG-rated effort from John Waters lacks his transgressive nastiness, but the tacky decor, elaborate hairstyles, and offbeat casting (Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, blues singer Ruth Brown, Divine in and out of drag) still reveal his arch worldview.

Greg S

Super Reviewer


The most interesting part of this movie for me was the cast. Like wow, Debbie Harry and Ric Ocasek were in this. It is definitely a weird Waters film, although it's PG. This is one of the strangest portrayals of the early 60s I have ever seen. I was expecting more singing, though, hearing from others that it's a musical and all. I didn't really get into this movie, but I guess others like it.

Aj V

Super Reviewer

Hairspray Quotes

Beatnik Chick: When I'm high, I AM Odetta! Let's Get naked and smoke!
– Submitted by Matthew D (3 years ago)
Amber von Tussle: Tracy Turnblad is a human roach nest.
– Submitted by Sylvester K (4 years ago)
Tammy: Penny Pingleton, you know you are punished. From now on you're wearing a giant P on your blouse EVERY DAY to school so that the whole world knows that Penny Pingleton is permanently, positively, punished.
– Submitted by Sylvester K (4 years ago)
Tracy Turnblad: I'm a bad, bad girl who needs to be punished.
– Submitted by Sylvester K (4 years ago)

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