Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hairpray (Or, A House Divided)

A.O. Scott, The New York Times:
"Mr. Walken’s gallantry in the role of Edna’s devoted husband, Wilbur, is unforced and disarmingly sincere, and their duet, “(You’re) Timeless to Me,” is one of the film’s musical high points."

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:
"As Edna's husband, a goof who runs a joke shop, Christopher Walken makes his befuddled detachment fun, but when he and Edna have their big romantic moment, ''(You're) Timeless to Me,'' it's so kitschy the two actors don't quite connect. For a brief period, the movie sags."

Most critics have been unanimous in their praise of Hairspray, this summer's big, shiny, happy musical. But they disagree over smaller points (witness the two excerpts above). Conclusion? If you like something about this movie, you're correct. If you don't like something about this movie, you're correct.

John Travolta (playing matronly Edna Turnblad) is often criticized as a example of pure stunt casting (unlike, say, Harvey Fierstein?). My take? He's courageous for lobbying for this role. He's the only actor (out of an extremely talented and accomplished cast) who even attempts to speak with an East Baltimore accent. Though his singing voice is pitched low, and never cuts through the scenery, his physical movement is superb, culminating in a dance scene that caused some teenage girls in our audience to squeal with delight.

Query: why is Edna Turnblad always played by a man in drag? Why can't we cast a real woman in this role? (Essay question: what woman would played the best Edna? (I vote for Darlene Cates of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"))

Even though the film was mostly shot in Toronto, as a native Balti-moron, I was delighted in details (especially the necco-wafer colored formstone exteriors). Cameos abound, including an early sighting of John Waters as a flasher, and how wonderful was it to cast the newly-svelte Rikki Lake in a small role as a talent scout? The producers respect Waters, Waters respects the producers, everyone likes everybody. That's the feeling you get from this movie.

The film's hidden star, though is Oklahoma City's own James Marsden. Playing a pencil-trousered proto Dick Clark, he steals every scene with his toothy earnestness. This guy's got talent beyond what's required for the latest Marvel Comics CGI-fest.

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