(If you read this review in the Top 100 Club, there is an additional paragraph about the music at the bottom of the review)
I avoided John Waters movies. I heard about the story of Divine eating dog feces in Pink Flamingos and decided that he had gross comedy, which I don't care for. But Martin has a couple music-oriented films on his list and so I thought I'd focus on those movies I hadn't seen. Okay, I'll give Hairspray a chance.
How did I not see this film before? Why did I not watch it in the 80s when it came out?
It's been a while since I had such a good time watching a new film. It is so lighthearted and fresh and uplifting. I laughed. I tapped my foot at the music. And I had a silly grin throughout the length of the film. I am not sure how he did it, but he took a film about racism and fat-shaming and turned it into a guilt-free romp.
In a sense, it is Grease turned upside down. The opening song is about what you put in your hair for fashion, and there is a dance competition at the center of the plot. But while the end of Grease is the victory of sexy fashion, Hairspray rebels against mainstream fashion, encouraging young people to fight against the common sensibilities of fashion and morality. And it is much funnier than Grease.
The script is full of silly statements and though the readings are stilted and shallow, it is perfect for the tone of the film. We are supposed to laugh at everyone, and with everyone. Everyone is projecting their performance, inviting us into the fun of it all. We aren't supposed to delve into the depth of these characters, but to enjoy the fun with the actors. Even so, I am ready to watch Rikki Lake and Divine in whatever they do. I want to have more of this.
Apart from the opening song, most the music comes from the dance-oriented soul of the early 60s. The music is continuous and provides much of the tone of the film, as well as many of the plot points. Music is the punctuation of every scene, and an exclamation point is the most frequent mark used. Like the film, the music constantly communicates, "We are here to have a good time! Let me tell you how to move, how to enjoy yourself right now." The music and plot merges at the end when "The Roach" and "The Bug" are used to turn the tables, using the frequent theme to take an insult and to proudly accept it as a label. The perfect, joyous way to end this film, using the strengths of the characters as the final conclusion and then using the music to enforce that. I've known a number of these songs for years, and I love the use of them in this film.