In 1960’s Baltimore, happy and positive teenager Tracy Turnblad has dreams of becoming more than a housewife when she’s older. When she lands a spot on her favourite local TV show as a regular dancer, she has the opportunity to realise her dreams. However, the times have a lot of changing to do if they are to fully accept both her larger than average size and her friends who have to make do with their slot on the once a month ‘Negro Day’ special.
Hairspray (2007) – Director: Adam Shankman
Running Length: 117 mins
Starring: Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer
Genre: Musical, Comedy
Originally a 1988 movie directed by John Walters, ‘Hairspray’ was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2002. Adam Shankman’s version hit the big screens in 2007, its light-hearted and upbeat sounds keeping audiences swaying to the music all the way through. It is a credit to the writers that Tracy, as lead character, is completely atypical but still relatable and that the scripting doesn’t just resort to fat jokes and ridicule. The fact that the audience can so easily root for both Tracy and her mother, Edna (played superbly by a cross-dressing John Travolta) makes anyone who mocks them for their size instantly become a villain.
While some criticism could be levelled at the glossing over of complex historical issues that are brought up in the movie (such as racism and segregation), the point of ‘Hairspray’ is to make people think without forcing strong opinions upon anyone. ‘Hairspray’ is designed to be light entertainment with a serious thread running through it. Whether you enjoy musicals or not, ‘Hairspray’ is chock-full catchy numbers which are likely to be stuck in your head for days. You’re bound to find yourself tapping your feet along to the music, wanting to join in with the singing and be disappointed that the fun’s over when the end credits roll.
IS ‘HAIRSPRAY’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
The majority of the questionable content comes from the mild sexual references which appear throughout the movie. During the first song, a man (played in a cameo by director of the original movie, John Waters) smiles as he walks past Tracy but, now in the background, he opens his coat in front of several women who squeal in shock. The line of the song refers to him as a ‘flasher’. In a brief moment, one of the male dancers on ‘The Corny Collins Show’ pulls out a pair of socks from the crotch of his trousers in front of two women. There is also a song where a character describes her feelings for a boy, she says that she ‘won’t go all the way but (I’ll) go pretty far’.
There is mildly suggestive dialogue throughout, however there are a few slightly stronger references which we feel parents may wish to be aware of. One character explains how she ‘screwed the judges’ and later says she risked communicable diseases in order to win competitions. During a song in a commercial for hairspray, one of the characters says ‘Hey baby, it looks like you could use a stiff one’. Also, in trying to ruin the reputation of one of the female characters, another girl says ‘it’s not true about her and the entire football team’. While adults will understand the implications of these references, it is unlikely that young children will pick up on their meanings.
Children may be confused by the blatant racism of the time and also that of particular characters. The word ‘Negro’ is used frequently and segregation is mentioned throughout in the dialogue but is also seen when the dancers of different races are physically separated by a rope.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
‘Hairspray’ is fun and snappy with constant comedy, keeping everything moving at a great pace. While there is some mild innuendo, the dialogue moves along so quickly that nothing is every lingered upon to become more than a simple throw-away line. The racism is handled sensitively, if a little lightly, but does not become patronising or one-sided. Overall, we feel that ‘Hairspray’ should be appropriate for kids aged 6 and over.
- Violence: 0/5
- Emotional Distress: 0/5
- Fear Factor: 0/5
- Sexual Content: 2/5 (general mild innuendo. A lot of the dancing can be quite suggestive but does not go too far. A boy sneaks into a girl’s bedroom in order to rescue her. He kisses her and leans her down towards the bed but brings her straight back up again. This scene is quite innocent in nature and is clearly about love rather than lust)
- Bad Language: 2/5 (some mild cursing and blasphemy. The word ‘whore’ is used a couple of times. There are a few mild racial slurs and there is also one use of a derogatory term for a physical disability)
- Dialogue: 2/5
- Other notes: Deals with themes of believing in yourself, challenging the established view, accepting others for their differences, prejudice, and fighting for what is right.
Words by Laura Record