Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to 1988. There’s no musical spin-off, no movie spin-off of the musical spin-off, no Zac Efron with Elvis Presley hair (damn shame, ladies… am I right?), no John Travolta in a fat suit. We’re talking the original Hairspray that started it all.
Hairspray is a whirlwind tour/parody of the 60s: the big hair, the Mash Potato, beatniks, teens in fairgrounds, diet pills, segregation, the poor condition of mental health care, and pastel colours. Phew. Director John Waters is well known to be the king of kitsch and Hairspray gleefully unfolds like Grease meets the B-52s. Trashy and ever so cool, it’s a pretty good way to go for hipsters who have exhausted every possibility for a Wes Anderson GIF and need a new direction to head in. I mean for one thing, the fashion in this movie is a vintage store’s wet dream, and the corny 60s dance scenes that dominate much of this average-girl-becomes-dancing-queen tale are so charming it’s hard really not to join in, meaning I wouldn’t recommend watching this with any sober professor types. What you need to do for that is rent A Beautiful Mind, watch it once before they arrive, and then solve all the maths problems before the character does and BANG, instant doctorate.
Fashion so good, three Topshops have imploded on themselves in shame.
Every line is delivered with the same staged, grandiose, arch tone of drag queen Divine, with a certain level of amateur awkwardness which just adds to the cult feel of the movie. This is bad acting done right. Ricki Lake sneers at the uptight, racist squares; they respond by pouting and throwing hissy fits. And not to turn this movie into some kind a diatribe against modern body issues, but it is pretty sweet to see a heroine have a makeover without having to shed a pound.
When you get down to it, this story has a big, big heart, thanks to the can-do optimism of its protagonists. It’s easy to think the caricatured peoples who populate Water’s world and the bombastic visuals exploding on screen like pastel vomit would leave this movie crass and soulless, but there’s a whole lot more soul than first meets the eye. Because of this, Hairspray is a great introduction for those totally unfamiliar with the world of John Waters, working perfectly as feel-good dance movie which deserves a place up there with Dirty Dancing and Footloose, avoiding any of the really out-there antics some of his other movies cook up (I’m talking the whole Pink Flamingos…dog…incident. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, for the love of god don’t Youtube it).
Also, Debbie Harry Debbie Harry Debbie Harry Debbie Harry is in this movie. YES. Her giant hair is so good in this movie I want to cry.
DEBBIE HARRY 4 LIFE
Funny, stylish, and gloriously trashy, this is the kind of movie people who have any claim on the title “cool” should count among their favourites.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time you find yourself bopping along to those classic 60s numbers.
Take a Drink: every time you actually inadvertently end up off the couch pulling your moves.
Take a Drink: every time you bemoan the modern age with its flat hair and robot music.