The summer movie season is full of heavy-handed, thrills-by-the-nano-second, common-denominator fun-fairs, for many of which brains and inclinations to heave must be checked at the door. It's what is expected of the typical summer blockbuster, simple entertainment. But when a summer blockbuster such as Hairspray--with its big-name cast and bankability, given the success of both its former incarnations--veers away from the Michael Bay-esque two-second shot format while administering the big doses of fun and heart lacking in most summer fare, the respite is more than welcome.
The story, driven by catchy-as-hell and darkly funny Broadway show tunes and dance numbers, tells of eternal optimist and chubby high schooler Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), whose dearest dream in 1960s-era Baltimore is to dance on the Corny Collins show and make out with the show's sweet, hot guy (Zac Efron). With both these dreams conquered half an hour into the movie thanks to her sick dancing skills learnt from falling in with the black kids in detention (a.k.a. dance class), Tracy sets her sights on integrating black dancers onto the show after the monthly Negro Day is cancelled and on changing a predominantly white Baltimore's feelings on civil rights.
The performances are extremely charming, ranging from John Travolta's much-touted role in drag as Tracy's mom Edna, to newcomer Blonsky, whose spirited performance arguably equals that of Jennifer Hudson in the much-too-serious Dreamgirls. Travolta, an old hand at musicals, makes a surprisingly convincing woman and steals every scene with his sparkly muumuus and amusing Baltimore accent. Christopher Walken tones down his Christopher Walken-ness and gives a very endearing and touching turn as Tracy's supportive father and smitten husband of Travolta's Edna. Tracy's friends, played by Elijah Kelley and Amanda Bynes, and love interest Efron, will attract the Disney Channel tweeners, but also prove their talents, delivering breakthrough worthy performances--especially for the lesser-known Kelley, whose voice and dance moves are as smooth as butter.
Like most summer crowd-pleasers, Hairspray may not be the deepest movie ever, but it makes up for it in heart and entertainment value. It's a hell of a lot of fun and manages to have substance. With Hairspray, audiences can walk out feeling not only avoid motion sickness, but also be entertained and satisfied.