Monday, December 10, 2007


Dragging down the party

By Edward Copeland
As Odienator expressed so well a while back, John Waters' original Hairspray in 1988 was quite fun. I never got to see its stage incarnation, though I've listened to the original cast album numerous times and seen several clips of production numbers. Now, I've seen the film version of the musical version of the original movie and it's mostly a charming affair, though it's sunk frequently by the grotesque miscasting better known as John Travolta as Edna Turnblad.

Every detail of the Travolta Edna is wrong. Why does it always seem that when film makeup goes bad, it goes horribly bad, as it does here. The latex and body suit harnessed to Travolta creates something that not only looks fake and rips you violently from the 1962 Baltimore that the film is trying to create, sometimes it repulses you.

Unfortunately, all the blame for why Travolta just does not work doesn't lie with what he's wearing, it's with the performance itself. Not only did Divine and, in what I've seen of Harvey Fierstein, make Edna a real woman with minimal makeup tricks, they also created actual characters. Travolta for some reason has chosen to adopt a fake Southernish accent that seems like a bad parody of Dustin Hoffman's voice as his Dorothy Michaels character in Tootsie, another case where a man in drag created a plausible female character.

Fortunately though, Travolta's screen time is limited to some extent and when he is off, it truly allows the others in the cast to shine, especially newcomer Nikki Blonsky as Tracy. The rest of the ensemble also is mostly fine across the board, including Christopher Walken (though imagine how good he could have been doing his number with someone other than Travolta as his partner), Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, Elijah Kelley and and Taylor Parks, to name but a few.

Michelle Pfeiffer does get to have more fun than she's had in a long time as the film's villainous Velma von Tussle, though the story change of making her the station manager and trying to seduce Walken, dowsn't really work. (Also, I have to admit, that I regret not giving her a husband as co-conspirator and a climax involving a time bomb hidden in a bouffant hairdo.)

With all the digital wizardry out there at talented people's fingers these days, maybe someone can alter the film and somehow insert Divine back into the role and let Fierstein do a Marni Nixon for the late actor.

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Please believe me when I tell you that the stage version is about a thousand times better - something for which I think Travolta can be almost exclusively blamed (although I don't think the radical story alterations - bulking up the role of Velma to give Pfeiffer more of a "star" role - did the film any favors). You're more diplomatic than I would have been had I reviewed the film - I think Travolta is a fucking truly is the worst film performance I've seen in a long, long, LONG time. If he's nominated for an Oscar, I may not watch in protest. Oh, who am I kidding...I'll watch (damn this awards addiction).

On the plus side, I thought Blonsky was in every way the equal of Marisa Jaret Winokur, who won the Tony for her performance as Tracy - and Elijah Kelly was actually an improvement on Corey Reynolds, Broadway's Seaweed.
I didn't have as violent a reaction as you or Josh, but I will at least agree with you that John Revolta is NOT Divine (in more than one sense of the word) in this role. It's stunt casting. As for the pseudo Southern accent, it's supposed to be a Baltimore accent coming out of that drag-clad Psychlo.

I agree with Josh on the Broadway performances vs. the movie's. I think Travolta's a shoo-in for an Oscar nod, and I want to be at Josh's when they announce the nominations so I can watch him shoot his TV like Elvis. Or better yet, he'll put his foot through the TV and I'll get to see his skeleton as he gets the blazes shocked out of him.
I had the complete opposite reaction to you guys. I found John Travolta really likable in this part (which is strange, cause I think he's a mistake as a human being), whereas Nicky Blonsky irritated the hell out of me.

Also, though Michelle Pfeiffer was fine, if there was a part that needed beefing up, surely it was Christopher Walken's? They didn't even give him a proper dance number. You'd think they never saw that Spike Jonze video.
I really can't see him getting nominated. Did you know they are running him as supporting? I can't decide if that helps his chances or hurt them. I think it's accurate, re role size, but he doesn't deserve it in either category. As for Travolta's accent, my ear for Baltimore accents may have been overly influence by years of Homicide and The Wire (and other John Waters films), but Travolta doesn't sound remotely like anyone I've heard from there.
Thanks for the warning, guys. Several times I have had the DVD in my hand in Blockbuster and something stopped me each time. Now I know what it was.
I absolutely loved Hairspray, and only find fault in two things:

1. It has SO MUCH energy, but it drags during the "serious" part (the peaceful march).

2. John Travolta.

I couldn't agree more. I loved the movie and he showed up on screen...and then he spoke. And then he kept speaking and just ruining it. I still love the film and think it's quite fantastic, and I like it when Travolta dances, but besides that, I think it was a terrible miss-cast.

I agree with you. While I have only seen parts of this (I have been quietly protesting it since I loved the original) I couldn't get past that it was John Travolta in a fat suit. And I think that says everything about his performance. It was meant to be more of a "isn't this funny, it's Travolta as a woman" rather than a legitimate role. And yes I understand by saying that I'm comparing it to the role that Divine played. But it didn't have the kitch that it once did and that bothered me.
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