In this 1988 film that spawned a hit Broadway musical and then a film based on that musical, John Waters tells the story of a 1962 Baltimore on the edge of integration.
"Pleasantly plump" teen Tracy Turnblad finally achieves her dream of becoming a member of the Corny Collins council. She quickly uses her fame as a tool to speak out against segregation. However, in doing so she must face head-to-head with Amber Von Tussle, the former star of the Corny Collins Show, and Amber's conniving, racist parents. Their rivalry reaches its greatest point when Tracy and Amber compete for the title of Miss Auto Show 1963.
Full of '60s hairdos (and hair-don'ts), a catchy soundtrack, and an uplifting message of acceptance, it's easy to see how Hairspray became such a successful franchise. That being said, I can't help but wonder how such a truly terrible script made it past the studio executives' desks. The dialogue stumbles, and at times it's hard to love even the main characters. In other scenes, it seems as if Waters was trying to set up such a stark contrast between the pro-integration and pro-segregation groups that he didn't bother making it realistic. For example, in the scene in which Penny's mother follows her daughter to the black neighborhood, she automatically assumes that the beggar asking for some spare change is going to mug her if she doesn't comply; she even runs screaming from the black cop in a patrol car. The issue of segregation was such a divisive and powerful one that it seems cheap for the film to simplify it in the film for a few laughs.
Still, it was good to see how Hairspray evolved over the last two decades; many of the lines became the basis for some of the musical's most popular numbers, and both the film and the musical leave viewers with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts.