Fluorocarbon Footprints.Posted: August 10, 2007
One virtue of the musical film Hairspray is that it is the first movie musical in a long time to have the courage of its convictions. That is, not to frame all its numbers as if it’s ashamed of them, in the “it’s happening on a stage within the film, so it’s justified!” way; or the “see, it’s really just an ironic commentary on the story!” way; or the “hey, don’t worry, it’s only a fantasy the character is having, so it’s not really happening!” way. (For an example of all these ways, see Chicago.) Or, the “it’s just a spoof, so relax” way. (See The Producers.) Rather, Hairspray, in the manner of classic musical films, dares to present us with some musical numbers that are simply the sincere, if outsized, expressions of its characters’ emotions. In these sequences, the movie leaves us no safe ground to run to evade the rapture of “yes, this is really happening“–yet no possibility to account for what we are seeing as logical or rational–opening up the possibility for us to feel feelings just as the characters do. And to give us choreography that isn’t all disembodied faces and hands and feet and asses. (See, again, Chicago.) Quite a lot of it works.
Most of the felicitous score (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) is in the pop-rock genre, but among the highlights is a number featuring Michelle Pfeiffer that owes more to “Whatever Lola Wants.” Its production is not only funny but, what’s more surprising, genuinely haunting; maybe the more haunting for being funny and the funnier for being haunting. It’s called “The Legend of Miss Baltimore Crabs.” Here’s a (somewhat choppy, unfortunately, and not terribly representative) video of a small piece of it:
Pfeiffer made something of a sensation with her piano-perching musical turn in The Fabulous Baker Boys back in ’89. It’s too bad we’ve had to wait almost twenty years to enjoy her in a musical again–she obviously has a flair for it–but her performance in Hairspray makes it feel worth the wait.