Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

A short word on “Hairspray”

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There’s a lot about this movie to like. Its songs play like a one big spirited symphony performed by a great cast. Its choreography makes some stupendous use of Broadway-style dance numbers, using the three dimensional scope of a 70mm frame (although, there’s a few moves in Grease upon which no one has ever improved). Its themes of genuine love, tolerance and civil rights do well enough, but the film cannot rise above stereotypes long enough to stick the landing.

The only real Christian symbol in the film appears as a crucifix hanging from the end of a bookmark that belongs to a white, middle class bigot who locks her daughter in a bedroom for dating a young black man.

The Civil Rights movement began in the churches of the south, and not a single black character appears in the film associated with Christianity (at least I didn’t catch it—if anyone knows that I missed something, please, let me know!).

Stereotypes come in handy when you want the audience to understand the characters quick enough to just sit back and enjoy the movie. Adding one or two moments to break stereotype adds a hint of complexity to the story and makes it more real. And the filmmakers accomplish this to a degree, pitting some stereotypes in conflict with others, shaping the film’s second act into a fuller story.

With such an explicit detail to represent the bigotry of the 60s, a crucifix around the neck of, say, Queen Latifah’s character, would have made a remarkable counterpoint to the Bible-thumping house-mom. Instead, it comes off like a cheap shot at religion. That’s really my only quibble. Dr. King’s legacy deserves a little more respect.

Written by taj

January 29, 2008 at 8:25 am

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