Wednesday, December 24, 2014
The most accessible movie John Waters ever made!
Cult filmmaker John Waters makes a cameo appearance in Hairspray and you would ask why not? Unlike his usual X rated films that were the bane of the censors, Hairspray is so clinically safe, even a grandmother could have appeared in it. Even Sonny Bono could (and does). Even the 300-pound transvestite Divine...but don't worry, Waters makes a PG-13 film here, certainly a characteristic departure from his many past efforts, one of which was famously filmed in "Odorama” which could only be truly appreciated with the aid of a scratch-and-sniff card.
Divine made five other films with his high-school friend John Waters: Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1971), Pink Flamingos (1973), Female Trouble (1974), and Polyester (1981) but this much deserved and critically acclaimed breakthrough comedy sadly contains Divine's last performance. He died on March 7, 1988 just 3 weeks after this movie's release.
Hairspray was the last film for Divine (real name: Harris Glenn Milstead), who stars as a lovable mom whose daughter, the ebullient Ricki Lake, lands a spot as a dancer on the local “Corny Collins Show" in early '60s Baltimore. Waters evidently has a special reverence for his hometown, and in the early '60s, Baltimore was not only popular for its dance obsession but also unmistakably a place where a girl's popularity was directly proportional to the height of her bouffant hairdo. This bright, bouncy early '60s look at dance crazes, racial tensions and integrationist sympathies is a pure delight, from Ricki Lake's memorable debut performance as a chubby teen who breaks all the boundaries, to Divine as her surly but sweet mom.
Besides the never disappointing Divine, Ricki Lake is a stand out. Waters casts the hefty teen as Tracy Turnblad, the rotund daughter of the even more rotund Divine. She is a nonconforming 60s teen with an idiosyncratic attitude who impulsively wants to compete in a dance show. It's not so much the dance as the attitude and it shows when she’s about doing the Madison, a dance step that eventually wins her a coveted job as a dancer on the "Corny Col¬lins Show". Apart from the lead two, watch out for the strong supporting cast including Pia Zadora, Jerry Stiller (as Divine's husband), and Debbie Harry.
Hairspray was a moderate success on release and a dramatic departure of Waters’ usual style. However, it is now considered both a sleeper hit on video and an undeniable John Waters cult classic even fetching Waters’ a Grand Jury prize at Sundance and Empire magazine calling it one of the 500 greatest movies of all time. Still, if the acting of Divine and Ricki lake doesn't impress you; the music, songs, candy colors and dances are all heaven and make it a must watch. A true John Waters treat like no other.
Note – If you like Divine as I do, you must watch Lust In The Dust (1984), a freakish western satire directed by Paul (Eating Raoul) Bartel, and Trouble in Mind (1985), where Divine actually plays a guy, alongside Kris Kristofferson, Genevieve Bujold, and Keith Carradine. Ricki Lake fans should checkout Cookie, directed by Susan Seidelman and co-starring Emily Lloyd and Peter Falk, Working Girl with Harrison Ford, and german director Uli Edel's Last Exit to Brooklyn co starring Jennifer Jason Leigh.