A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Hairspray" is just plain fun. Or maybe not so plain. There's a lot of craft and slyness lurking beneath the circa-1960s goofiness. The movie seems guileless and rambunctious, but it looks just right (like a Pat Boone musical) and sounds just right (like a Golden Oldies disc) and feels just right (like the first time you sang "We Shall Overcome" and until then it hadn't occurred to you that we should). It bounces out of bed with Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), a roly-poly bundle of joy, whose unwavering cheerfulness shines on the whole movie. "Good morning, Baltimore!" she sings, as she dances through a neighborhood where everyone seems to know and love her, even the garbagemen who let her ride on the roof of their back-loader. She's like a free-lance cheerleader.
At school she links up with best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes), whose name is undoubtedly a tribute to Penny Singleton, who played Dagwood's Blondie. They live for the moment when the minute hand crawls with agonizing slowness to the end of the school day, and they can race home and dance along with "The Corny Collins Show," the local teenage TV danceathon. In those days, every local market had a show like that. Eventually Dick Clark plowed them under with "American Bandstand." I miss their freshness and naivete.
Corny (James Marsden) is well named, as he presides over a posse of Popular Kids known as his Council. Tracy longs to be on the Council. The star of the show and head of the Council is Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), whose mother Wilma (Michelle Pfeiffer) manages the station and enforces an all-white policy for the show, except for the monthly Negro Day organized by Maybelle (Queen Latifah), owner of a record shop.
All of this is recycled from the original 1988 John Waters film, which made Ricki Lake a star, and from the Broadway musical made from the Waters movie, but it's still fresh the third time around. It's a little more innocent than Waters would have made it, but he does his part by turning up in a cameo role as a flasher (look quick and you see Ricki Lake, too, and Pia Zadora). The plot involves Tracy's instinctive decency as she campaigns to integrate the program, endangering her campaign to get on the Council.