Obviously a big-budget, flashy musical remake of a John Waters film is never going to be as subversive or as comically edgy as its predecessors, but one of the good things about HAIRSPRAY is that it never intends to be. It fully embraces the cheesy, over-the-top aspect of a movie musical from frame one, a trait that most other current films of its type try to avoid. In a welcome change from the summer drudgery of explosions and CGI, this film is a pure feel-good crowd pleaser where excitement and energy rise above all.
Everyone in the cast gives able performances; even Travolta who, in drag and a fat suit, seems at first off-putting, beginning a one-joke "hey I'm a man in a dress!" performance, quickly grows into his own as Edna does, becoming the most crowd-pleasing character by the film's end. It's a pleasure to see a former GREASE-r returning to what made him famous, but Travolta proves surprisingly agile in the comedy department, especially during his song and dance numbers.
The real enjoyment here, however, and the truly great performances are given by the younger members of the cast. Every single teenager in the film, from the leads to the chorus boy in the back of the room are injected with an unshakable, undeniable energy that reaches through the screen and captivates the viewer. This rings true especially for the film's two major finds: newcomers Nikki Blonsky and Elijah Kelly. Both of them have that instant star quality, a charisma and charm that make them instantly likable. Kelly displays simply astounding singing and dancing skills, while Blonsky easily carries the entire film of her shoulders, becoming the heart and soul of the movie with one hip thrust.
HAIRSPRAY has nothing much to offer besides two hours of entertainment and escapism, but it offers it in spades. It is a pure joy to watch from beginning to end and a welcome change of pace from the big-budget action film that surround its release. Yes, it's a musical and yes, it's over-the-top, but the audience is sold on that point from the first moment Tracy opens her mouth and the audience cannot help but be sucked in.