the new hairspray works on the power of its corny artificial sweetness. set in baltimore, filmed in toronto, the movie lacks the moments of grit of the 1988 original, directed by john waters (who cameos as a flasher in the opening musical number). nobody barfs in this version, nobody even sweats. the words "high yellow," much less "whore," never pass anyone's lips. as in an old m-g-m studio production, the rats + the garbage trucks look clean. this movie's version of the 1960s makes 1978's grease look like a documentary.
the film works because, although the relentlessly cheery version of urban racial tensions is not real, the cast sing + dance with enough energy + apparent earnestness to make us forget about the reality--so, unfortunately, undermining the film's halfbaked attempts at social consciousness. nikki blonsky as tracy turnblad radiates good will + energy. in fact, the film owes everything to blonsky, one of those rare entertainers who can sparkle without making me want to slap them silly. she carries the movie.
the rest of the performers are good too--even amanda bynes, whose casting in the film was why i had to be dragged to the theater 4 full weeks after the movie opened. travolta is good, but i wanted him to be better, and he does seem to get better as the movie goes on. his version of tracy's mom is jarringly different than divine's, but effective + at times touching. queen latifah is queen latifah, not the ball of fire ruth brown is in the original film, but likeable + comfortable. michelle pfeiffer + christopher walken are terrific, she is all delicious malevolence, he is all enthusiastic cluelessness. i wish the movie gave them more to do. zac efron looks more plastic than a ken doll, but like a doll, he is sexlessly adorable. elijah kelley comes closest to projecting the sense of eroticism one feels as an undercurrent in the 1988 waters version. james marsden proves that as a song+dance man he can offer much more to a film than just his glowering boyish good looks. allison janney, paul dooley, + jerry stiller are wonderful to see, too, but have little to do here.
i like john waters' hairspray better, but even the original hairspray was no pink flamingos. overall, the new movie is good entertainment, especially in the singing + dancing numbers, which seem nonstop. i see myself as pretty jaded, but occasionally a bit of fluff + schmaltz like this film can put a silly grin on my face in spite of myself. it's a glazed doughnut i feel guilty about eating in the first place, then even guiltier for enjoying.