Sunday, 24 April 2011

Scene On A Sunday: Hairspray

You’d be hard-pressed to find a film from 2007 that’s as daring in its outlandish – and sometimes misguided – ideals as Hairspray. One of the worst things about the alleged “renaissance” of musicals that happened when Moulin Rouge! turned into something spectacular was the ridiculous hope everyone started getting that every musical to come with be an Oscar bound package. There’s little logic in expecting something like Hairspray to be up the Oscar’s alley – at least in the way of the major categories. At it remains heart it’s a ludicrously, hilarious romp that’s easily one of the strongest comedies of 2007. I’m not that fond of Adam Shankman generally, but his stargazing works well for me in Hairspray where Michelle Pfeiffer easily emerges as best-in-show for me. Sure, that’s about as nepotistic a judgement, on my part, as they come but Michelle is such a delightful slice of snarky as Velma Von Tussell – and her first number is a killer.

I love how her voice is what introduces us to the number. Michelle is so gorgeous, but her voice is what I remember most from her performances. Not even her singing voice (there’s no way she’d have been as brilliant as Catwoman without that voice of hers). And as we watch those dancing feet we drift into the opening bars of the number.
Velma (OS): “Back step, cha-cha-cha. Side step, front step.”
Velma: “Back and turn.”

There come Tracy and Penny to be taken down by our resident Queen...

Velma: “Front step, cha-cha-cha. Tammy, sharper. Side step, front step. Back, again”

Tracy: “Oh my god, Penny. There’s Link. Link. Penny, pinch me.”

It’s a slight role, but Amanda Bynes is probably at her cinematic best here (I saw cinematic best because I had a soft spot for her work in What I Like About You).

Penny: “You told me to.”

Tracy (OS): “I can’t believe I’m really here auditioning.”

Penny (OS): “I can’t believe I’m really here watching you audition.”
Velma’s intent focus here never fails to amuse me. Villain or no, she has astoundingly good work ethic.

Velma: “Front step, cha-cha-cha. Back step, cha-cha-cha.”
Zac Efron, too, is at his best here. Because it’s such a satirical piece it gives the leads a chance to play the stereotypes in the most over-the-top of ways and Efron is a good comedian when given the chance. Case in point – his best moments in Hairspray happen when he has these random comedic bits, and not when he maintains his gauche characterisation as the romantic lead.

Penny and Tracy look so innocent there, ready for a good tongue-lashing in 3, 2, 1...

Velma: “Side step, front step. Back and t- Oh, Amber, look at this motley crew.”
There’s little that’s deliberately funny about “Miss Baltimore Crabs” – it’s a performance number in every sense of the word and it depends on Pfeiffer’s expressions end enunciations. I love her expression above.

Velma: “Oh, this town sure has gone downhill since I was crowned Miss Baltimore Crabs.”

Brittney Snow is a lot of fun here, too. She’s another young actor who needs a good role. She’s such a good contrast and complement to Pfeiffer. Her youth is a perfect foil to Velma. It’s such a nice touch how as soon as Velma begins her quasi-monologue Amber (along with Link) being sighing. They’ve heard this one before
Velma: “♫ Oh, my God. How times have changed. These girls must be blind or completely deranged. ♫”
I honestly wish they’d get a technical Oscar for choreography. It’s noting especially intricate, but it just works in the ensemble setting with Pfeiffer in the middle there. Just like there's an Oscar for specific song numbers, there should be one for specific dance numbers....but I am digressing.

 Velma: “♫ But time seemed to halt, when I was Miss Baltimore Crabs. ♫”

There’s this slow nostalgic rhythm to the number and Michelle brings that out so excellently.

Velma: “Amber! That move is far too dirty.”

Amber: “Mother wake up from that dream of yours, this isn’t 1930.”

The rapport between the two work so well. Sure, Tracy/Edna are the important mother/daughter duo but Snow and Pfeiffer work excellently. It’s a real shame they excised the number “Mama, I’m A Big Girl Now” which would have been a nice showcase for the two.

 Velma: “♫ You can laugh, but life’s a test. Don’t do this, don’t do that – remember, mother knows best. ♫”
When she says that “mother knows best line” I get an immediately transference to Donna Murphy in Tangled – another brilliant, diabolical mother.

Velma: “♫ For the crown’s in the vault, from when I won Miss Baltimore Crabs. ♫”

Amber: “These steps are perfect ammunition.”

Velma: “♫Let me show you how your mommy dear took out the competition. ♫”

This leads into my favourite sequence of the number – which says a lot, because this entire number is just perfection.

 Velma: “Girls, go get them. Boys, let’s rumba.”
It’s strange, you don’t get the feeling that Velma is trying to be one of those older women trying to hold on to her youth, but in her sophistication she just seems especially youthful.

Velma: “♫1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Those poor runner-ups might still hold some grudges. They padded their cups, but I screwed the judges.♫”
It’s so impossible to resist the humour Pfeiffer brings to this number. It’s one of the things about Hairspray – the characters, villains included, are laid out in black-and-white – but they have no qualms about making everyone seem as interesting as ever. And Pfeiffer brings that humour to Velma immediately.

 Velma: “♫Those broads thought they’d win if a plate they would spin in their dance! Not a chance. ♫”

(What I wouldn’t give to trade places with that band of boys.)
 Velma: “Boys, put me down. Oh, good morning ladies. Let’s see what you got.”
On a side note, how did Hairspray not a get a nomination for its costumes. I love that blue dress on Velma, there.

Poor girls, waiting there to receive their diatribe.

All: “Twist, twist, twist, twist. Mashed potato, mambo.”

 Velma: “Ready? Begin. ♫On my show you’ll never find, a thrusting hip or bump and grind.♫”
(These lines are so ridiculous, but I love them.)

 Amber: “What’s that? A dance for fleas and ticks?”
She’s no Regina George, but Amber makes for a brilliant mean girl.

Velma: “♫Oh, you should-a seen my bag of tricks.♫”
I love that recurring theme where every little things leads Velma into the memories of her days in the sun.

 Velma: “♫Oh, I hit the stage batons ablaze, while belting Aida and preparing soufflés.♫”

 This isn’t here scene, but Nikki is so much fun here.

 Velma: “♫But that triple somersault is how I clinched Miss Baltimore Crabs.♫”
...and then we segue into the actual memories.

In addition to the costumes, how great is the art direction here? For me, Hairspray is a technical marvel – it’s a real shame they didn’t get love for either.

Velma: “Proceed.”

Girl: “♫Are you scared we’re on live?♫”

Tracy: “♫Well, I’m sure I can cope.♫”

 Amber: “♫Well this show isn’t broadcast in Cinemascope.♫”

I love that shot of Michelle in the background, and that random girl with attitude there.
 Velma: “♫I never drank one chocolate malt, no desserts for Miss Baltimore Crabs.♫”

Amber: “♫This one will never get a date in those hand-me-down clothes.♫”
(Poor girl.)


Velma: “♫Kid, she’ll never get a date ‘till Daddy buys her a new nose.♫”

(I love Amber’s face of disgust there. Who could get the spotlight with a mother like Velma?”
 Velma: “♫I would say, Oh, Gevalt if I wasn’t Miss Baltimore Crabs”.♫”

 Amber: “♫Do you dance like you dress?♫”

Link: “Amber, there’s no need to be cruel.”

 Velma: “♫Would you swim in an integrated pool?♫”

Tracy: “I sure would. I’m all for integration. It’s the new frontier!”
This part always brings one of my biggest issues with the film to the forefront. Everyone seems against Tracy’s pro-black stance here and yet at the end they’re all happy to welcome Inez. But, I digress.

 Velma: “Not in Baltimore it isn’t. And may I be frank?”

 Velma: “♫First impressions can be tough but when I saw you I knew it. If your size weren’t enough your last answer just blew it.♫”
 Velma: “♫And so my dear, so short and stout. You’ll never be in so we’re kicking you out.♫”
 Velma: “♫With your form and your face. Aw well, it isn’t your fault. You’re just down with a case of Miss Baltimore Crabs.♫”

Velma: “Uh, you may go.”
Love that final look of Michelle there, as if “Thank God, that’s over.”

Tracy: “Um...thank you?”
Penny: “I think they secretly liked you.”

And right there, one of the year's funniest scenes. How I miss Pfeiffer in the movies, even in these bit parts she's excellent. Are you a fan of Miss Baltimore Crabs?


Walter L. Hollmann said...

I LOVE this movie. SO MUCH. Everything works here, from villainous Pfeiffer to female Travolta to Zac Efron to cheesy/noble James Marsden. Love it. Those snubs in Costume and Art Direction really hurt me that year, It's like the mission statement for 2007 was "Depressing = Good", with room for only one comedy in anyone's thoughts (Juno).

As for the integration thing, I feel like it can be explained in two ways. Number One: they haven't had much exposure to black people, so they just don't know how much they'll love someone like Inez. Number Two: When Velma's in the room, EVERYONE plays mean, lest they lose their jobs. Or it just looks better for the finale. Which I adore and makes me feel like dancing every time I see it.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Yeah. I'm straight and I still think Hairspray is an amazing achievement. I may be prejudiced as the thing had its triumphant start in Seattle, but the movie just works—the highlight being for me the "Miss Baltimore Crabs" number. That spooled out over the tv and I did something I never do..."WAIT!! We have to see that again!"
And I'm not a Travolta fan. But he is great in this.

Good choice for today.

Joanna Arcieri said...

I love Hairspray! It is one of my favorite musicals. And I love Michelle Pfeiffer in this scene. It has been TV a lot recently and I just realized how exceptional the casting is. Thanks for posting :D

Stevee Taylor said...

Why thank you, for taking me back to the days in late 2007/early 2008 when I used to watch this film every week, and pump out the soundtrack every day. This song was always one of my favourites. This movie was just so...great! I still love it, after all this time.

...and now I'm going to have this movie in my head for the rest of the day. Thanks. :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

walter and with all its issues, i think hairspray is easily superior to juno. what really hurt me that year, though, was the snubs in original song. i mean, for god sakes - snubbing the musical in the music category was a real affront. (ps. i do love your justifications for the integration thing.)

yojimbo thanks. pfeiffer really does command the screen here,

joanna if i recall correctly, it earned a well deserved ensemble cast nomination from the SAG.

stevee hooray for random hairspray singing.