Hairspray (1988) - It's a Gas
| This is probably John Watersí most mainstream film. There arenít any moments where one needs to turn away from the camera. The closest he comes to grossing out his audience is a pimple popping scene and even then he cuts away from the camera.
Understand that I go to a Waters film to be grossed out. If you donít know him, in his day he was like the Jackass guys are today. I guess itís fitting he makes a cameo in Jackass Number Two. His most recent, A Dirty Shame was a return to his nasty ways but in many aspects it shares a lot with this safer story as well. A common theme in his work is that one should embrace being different and that we should all celebrate it instead of persecuting it.
Hairspray is essentially the same tale. It is probably his most successful film, both financially and in terms of film making. Watersí films always seem a bit clumsy, as if itís an amateur production. Itís his signature thing. Hairspray has elements of that but is more polished than most of his other work, with the exceptions of his more commercial follow ups Cry Baby and Serial Mom.
Hairspray is a fun film. Itís funny with a good story and a great message. The musical adaptation seems to have got that right. But the original Hairspray is also a celebration of a more innocent time. It taps into a nostalgic love of that era while also critiquing it. It challenges the assumptions of that generation and makes fun of them but does so in a loving way. This may be the best example of how, deep down, Waters is a much better film maker than most give him credit for.
The music in Hairspray is a great deal of fun. Waters plays classics for his characters to dance to and itís like listening to an old jukebox. It adds that loving touch to a great big loving kiss of a movie that features a fun cast that includes a young and plump Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller Ruth Brown, Sonny Bono and of coarse, Divine.