"Tracy Turnblad, that fat thing."
Yes, that Tracy.
I was lucky enough to go attend the premiere of Hairspray last week at the Ziegfeld. And lucky is the key word. The film is really great. At first when I heard the were bringing the 1988 John Waters film back to the big screen with John Travolta, I was not that thrilled. What could he do with Edna Turnblad that Divine or even Harvey Fierstein hadn't already done? Well, I was pleasantly surprised at Mr. Travolta's ability to silp completely into the skin of a 300 lb. woman. You quickly forget about Saturday Night Fever, Grease or Pulp Fiction (although there is a quick nod to that classic at the finale) and empathize with this heavy-set-agoraphobic-laundress whose daughter only wants to dance on local Baltimore daytime television.
It is Tracy Turnblad that is the center of this story and new comer Nikki Blonsky is terrific as the teenager who dreams one day of dancing on the Corney Collins Show. With her dad's (the wonderful Christopher Walkin) encouragement she makes her dream a reality. It's her size that she (and the audience) think is holding her back when in fact it's what makes her different that sets her apart. I think that's the greatest lesson here from all of the incarnations of this film.
It's all about being different and not fitting into society. That could only be written by someone who he himself never fit into the mainstream -- John Waters. From Female Trouble to Polyester to even Serial Mom, his films are all about dancing to your own beat.
Tracy Turnblad not only fights to get people like her on television, but she fights to integrate the show much to the protest of Michelle Pfeiffer's character. "The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice" sings Seaweed in a show-stopping performance by Elijah Kelley. It's the wanting to be different or the "wishing every day was Negro Day" that is the root of this. And needless to say Tracy succeeds. I feel like this film puts a lot of the edge back into the story. How amazing is it that Tracy rides to school on top of a garbage truck? Or how about when Edna and Tracy peer into a crowded bar to see two pregnant women smoking and drinking while rubbing their stomachs. "How glamorous," Edna coos to Tracy. It's that great sense of camp that keeps things true to John Waters original vision.
Ultimately, Hairspray is about fighting discrimination of all kinds. "You can't stop the beat," they sing at the end and as time keeps marching on maybe things are getting better. Maybe more of us that are on the outside are seeing more of us on television. I think we all have Tracy Turnblad to thank for that. Thank you, Tracy!