Hairspray - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Hairspray Reviews

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½ October 6, 2016
Being the source of a musical pop culture phenomenon, Hairspray's legacy and status as a John Waters film demanded immediate viewing.

Though the flashy nature of the Hairspray musical had turned me away from the Hairspray name for so long, the fact that the original film is a John Waters feature is more than enough to certify that it needs my viewing. But I can't help but wonder why the film makes such the impact it does. Set during the more racially segregated era of the early 1960's with emphasis being on the conservative lifestyle of the characters as well as the zany fashion of the time, Hairspray nevertheless remains a simplistic and silly comedy that deeply embodies the campy style of John Waters. Perhaps the success of the film lies in the fact that it has such oddball elements of his yet also remains one of his most accessible due to its more lighthearted nature. There is no denying a certain kind of kindhearted charm to the feature and an admiration for its respectful approach to serious subject matter, but there feels like a tonal mismatch blunts the film.
Hairspray aspires to tackle the legitimate drama surrounding the concept of racial segregation in America while also existing as a silly piece of camp cult cinema at the same time, yet there is far greater success in the former than the latter. John Waters succeeds in capturing the complicated nature of racism in America without the melodrama that isolates so many viewers, but there is a sense that its satirical edge is underdeveloped. The satire is one of the many comedic elements of Hairspray that just seem to duck in and out at their own will, creating an experience which really jerks viewers in both directions. The film only has 88 minutes to get through all its material and has to develop its story while poking fun at it with a rather fast pace to capture everything within the timeframe, and it ends up resorting to a lazy narrative to do this. The story itself is thin while the subject matter is relevant, and the film sustains itself with a series of silly characters and some random sketches. This means that the experience is fun in the right parts, but it also creates a tonal inconsistency that clashes with the serious elements of the film. For the right viewer Hairspray is a film which carries a lot of positive messages and delivers them with a loving camp spirit, but given John Waters' status as an auteur it is a challenge to determine how much genuine commentary he wants to make in Hairspray and how much he just wants to laugh at the idiocy of racism.
Nevertheless, there is a far more ambitious satirical edge to Hairspray than in many other John Waters films. The film satirizes contemporary media in the sense that television is used to promote the vanity of popular white culture while legitimate issues of those in the struggle for civil rights are such a foreign concept to people. The entire Civil rights struggle is looked upon in a refreshing context in which the protagonist doesn't question anything about her belief in racial integration, and she spends most of the film engaging with the crowd as friends rather than preaching to everyone about equality. Given that enough films have done this already, it comes in handy that John Waters is not a preacher as he takes a new perspective on things.
John Waters' delightful sense of campy humour is what really carries Hairspray through its slower moments. Being a filmmaker with such a distinctive style, John Waters ensures that his fans can have a good time with the film. This is epitomized by the scene in which Prudence Pingleton wanders through an African-American-centric neighbourhood and reacts with terrified melodrama at the most casual interactions of the locals. There really are some funny moments in Hairspray, even if they are very sporadic over the course of the narrative. The two things that do remain consistent are the actors and the sense of style. Hairspray is packed chock full of colourful costume design, ridiculous hairdos and genuinely nostalgic imagery which certainly makes the glory of the 60's come back to life. The soundtrack is a key supportive factor in all of this.
And Ricki Lake makes for a wonderful lead. Seamlessly working with both the drama and comedy of Hairspray without ever seeming over-the-top or one-dimensional, Ricki Lake pursues her role with the intention to simply have a lot of fun. She does this perfectly as her passionate energy is infectious, making her a lovable carefree protagonist. Being a plus-sized character who never gives her weight a second thought, Ricki Lake's free spirit promotes both bodily positivity and an inspiring outlook on life in general. When it comes to the political themes of the film she has no problem launching into a melodramatic tirade, but it all plays into the humourous glee of the film. Ricki Lake's lighthearted nature is so charming that it is difficult not to be completely captivated by her, and her gorgeous smile just lights up the screen.
Divine is once again a perfect presence in another John Waters film. Adhering to her ridiculous distinctive nature of campy melodrama, Divine whines every word in a monotonous fashion with merciless passion for it. She creates a hilarious mother-daughter chemistry with Ricki Lake, but more notable is the fact that she works alongside notorious comedian Jerry Stiller to create a hilarious husband-and-wife duo. The two share a hilarious engagement with the world around them, both being appropriately over-the-top without detracting from the central focus of the story. Divine proudly makes a strong presence while Jerry Stiller brings his own support to the film, crafting effectively hilarious support for the film.
Sonny Bono and Ruth Brown provide nostalgic enjoyment for audiences while Joanna Havrilla's cheesy nature is utterly perfect. John Waters even makes an effective cameo.

Hairspray's energetic cast and passionate sense of style and fun remind us that John Waters really is a master of camp, though the attempts to maintain effective dramatic commentary end up underdeveloped.
½ August 17, 2016
For some reason, I decided my 7-year old needed to watch this film and I am happy to report it was quite a hit. I'm also happy to report that this film still holds up as being as wildly funny and entertaining as when it first came out. Outside of indi film fans (for which there really weren't many independent films for a few years more until Mirimax came into being), most of the people who loved this film when it came out did not appreciate how subversive it was that this was a mainstream, PG-rated film made by John Water; the man who brought us shocking classics like "Polyester" or "Female Trouble" (my personal favorite) and also the notorious "Pink Flamingos." Having seen all of Water's early films, it seemed quite wrong to be showing my child a John Waters film, but "Hairspray" is a very sweet film, though it does certainly retain Water's offbeat sense of humor. Ricki Lake is terrific as Tracy Turnblad, the girl who doesn't let what others think about her appearance stop her from becoming a star on The Corny Collins dance show. There's a very cool supporting cast that includes the great Divine in dual roles, Jerry Stiller, Sonny Bono, Josh Charles in his film debut when he dances with Penny Pingleton, John Water's regular Mink Stole, and Piz Zadora and Ric Ocasek as beatniks. And I didn't realize it until I looked it up on IMDB but Vitamin C (billed as Colleen Fitzpatrick) played Amber von Tussle. I also learned that Vitamin C is now the Vice President of Music at Nickelodeon, which because I have kids, I know actually has some pretty good music if you've ever seen an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba. This is a terrific movie that I defy anyone to not enjoy.
August 14, 2016
Pretty awesome little musical from the twisted mind of John Waters. Set in pre-Beatlesmania, Hairspray stars Ricki Lake as an upbeat plum girl Tracy whose desire of dancing will not only gain her popularity, but lessons and friends. Excellent soundtrack and wonderful supporting cast makes it hard not to smile.
½ July 12, 2016
It was ight. I've seen better. I've seen worse.
April 17, 2016
The original music classic classic set in the heart of Maryland Baltimore. It's amazing how much of the 2007 version borrowed heavily from the original.

The story is fun & carefree of a plump teen going big time on a teen dance talent show. I personally liked the John Waters quirky touch in this film & found myself chuckling at the oddity of it.

Not as slick & colorful as the new film but I found it rather enjoyable the story has terrific race tolerance message as well.
½ February 6, 2016
Just watched this, after having seen the Broadway musical years ago and the newer film last year, and I wish I hadn't waited so long! Nice, gritty, pseudo-realistic take on the whole integration thing and being a teen.
Lotsa dancin' and retro to the max
Love the Waters style!
January 25, 2016
John Waters's ascent into the mainstream was always unavoidable. Though a trash king at the start of his career, even his earliest pictures bear a distinct, giddy sort of black comedy painless to like, despite gross-outs that infamously include dog poop consumption and chicken murder (yes, I'm looking at you, "Pink Flamingos"). With a fond eye for small-town values and a preoccupation with knotting them all up into wacky satire, Waters's career has been diverse, always leaning toward the idea of reinvention. 1988's "Hairspray," his first foray into film commercial audiences could accept passionately, is arguably the high point in his career, a nimble mixture of his old values and the values of the orthodox audience he was, at the time, so primed to impress.
I prefer Waters when he's rabid and in-your-face - I'd take "Serial Mom" or "Polyester" any day over "Cry Baby" - but I cannot deny the shining jewel that is "Hairspray," strung together to alternately parody and pay homage to the 1960s rock musical with wit and color. In it, then-newcomer Ricki Lake portrays Tracy Turnblad, a pleasantly plump high school girl who dreams of being a more relatable subversion of the Shelley Fabares and Deborah Walleys of the time. Her favorite TV program is The Corny Collins Show (loosely based upon the Buddy Deane Show), a teenage dance show she strives to land herself on.
And, against the odds, she does, finding her way onto the set with such notability that she ends up upstaging the series's most popular commodity, the blond, shallow Amber Von Tussle (Vitamin C). Previously repressed in society due to her weight, Tracy soon metamorphoses into a hotbed of confidence, becoming a plus-size model, grabbing the attention of Amber's boyfriend (Michael St. Gerard), and even filling the role of a Civil Rights activist after The Corny Collins Show proves itself to be pro-segregation.
Quick, lively, and campy in the ways only a stage show could be (which it has actually become in recent years), "Hairspray" is an offbeat delight that struts its stuff to the beat of its own drum, infectious in its music and comedy. This is the film Waters was made to make, adjoining his love of the nostalgia of the 1950s and '60s and his liking of the aberrant with wide appeal. It also features excellent performances from the soon-to-be-big Lake and Waters's favorite drag queen, Divine, the former bubbly yet courageous, the latter easily able, as always, to run away with scenes like a charisma jacker. (Tragically, this was Divine's last film role before his untimely death just a month following the movie's release.)
"Hairspray" deepens its cartoonish Technicolor sheen by touching upon the racial attitudes that overtook much of 1960s Baltimore, and though its commentary is about as meaningful as something you'd find in a middle school history textbook, it makes it more than just a sentimental bop. But the film is a spirited treasure and is a must-see for those who aren't so eager to view Waters's more outrageous works; the 2007 remake, while superb, certainly cannot compare to the randy, droll personality of the original.
December 12, 2015
Waters' original Hairspray ultimately edges out the excellent 2007 remake due to its campy, kitschy tone and a more solid grasp of the central message. It mocks the institutionalized white tendency to oppress poc and then trot them out every once in a while as a "fun alternative" to their "mainstream" existence, centers around a confident big girl who's never taught to change or apologize for the way she is, and points out the racism that dictates how white people perceive black people, all while retaining a sense of wacky fun. Divine's inclusion was revolutionary for a relatively mainstream film, and while Waters may have toned down his signature transgressive humor in order to make it, Hairspray is no worse for wear, a ballsy, hilarious American classic that remains a high school theater staple due to its broad appeal and enduring charm.
August 15, 2015
A fun film that captures the 60s life perfectly, this film is all about the music and dancing. But also has a deep message that everyone should be equal and integrated. Many fun and amusing characters in this energy filled film. A brilliant feel good movie to put a smile on everyones face.
May 6, 2015
Hairspray is certainly not your typical John Waters movie, and it's probably for the best. This is certainly the movie that brought him to mainstream audiences, along with Cry-Baby. It's full of great music, fun characters, and carries a good underlying message about racism and middle America during the 1950's.
½ April 15, 2015
It's my favorite Waters film so that should tell you what I think of Waters.
February 15, 2015
Entretenida y subersiva cinta de John Waters, años mas tarde se hizo una secuela a la altura de esta cinta.
½ October 15, 2014
A fine movie worth while watching.
July 26, 2014
A very good movie must see.
TheDudeLebowski65
Super Reviewer
½ July 15, 2014
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.
½ June 16, 2014
The beatnik chick and Amber's hair being the only validly humourous parts of this film, it is, in my adolescent opinion, only a good movie through the eyes of historical value. Divine is the worst, right? You see that, right?
June 13, 2014
Arguably the high point of John Waters' career, HAIRSPRAY is a fun, energetic and infectious movie with a top-notch soundtrack and earnest performances from everyone involved. The story centers around Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake), a "pleasantly plump" teenager who spends her afternoons watching the Corny Collins Show, where teenagers dance the most popular dances to the latest tunes. She manages to get on the show, and from there hopes to bring integration to Baltimore, Maryland (this takes place in 1962). While still maintaining some the weirdness which made John Waters (in)famous, this film rises above campiness because of the social ideas it embraces, e.g., racial equality. There's also hints of commentary on fame and child stars, akin to themes explored in more explicit ways in his previous films, but the focus here is on bringing people together. And what better way than through music and dancing? Just about everything in the movie works, from the retro fashion which has been lovingly recreated/exaggerated to the choreography and music. It's so catchy that you just want to get up and dance yourself. Still, the movie isn't without its negatives. The narrative is a bit thin, and the conflict is resolved a little too easily, but this can be mostly forgiven because of the strength of everything else around it. Recommended for moviegoers of all ages.
May 19, 2014
I still prefer the broadway version (my school)
½ April 28, 2014
I've never seen the more well known Hairspray film from 2007, but I do know it's very musical, energetic, and star-studded. This lesser known adaptation functions as a normal storyline film rather than musical. The 50's soundtrack is catchy, the mostly unknown cast do great in their roles, and its a fun movie that manages to be entertaining, while also sticking closely to the important themes of segregation. That said, some characters I felt I should've been more aquainted with weren't built up as strongly in the film, like Tracy's boyfriend, who's just some average stud type. Most of all, I appreciate the film for being more down to earth, but it also feels seemingly dry at times, hungry for a little more production value with spark and flare. It can be fun, but never quite pops. It doesn't act as a spectacle, but I suppose the 2007 version has that in store. Based on what you're looking for, I'm sure both versions have something to offer. Not being as much as a musical fan, I'm going to guess this version is for me.
April 20, 2014
love the movie but I prefer the remake divine just scared me
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