Hairspray (1988)

It’s Baltimore in 1963 and all the local teens are going crazy for the Corny Collins Show which features kids in the area busting their best moves. There’s only one problem – the show is for whites only. So when integrationist Tracy Turnblat (Ricky Lake) gets her moment in the spotlight she sets out to do more than just dance.


Compared to its Travolta-led remake it’s much more dialled up, weird and, well, John Watersy. Yet it’s also one of his more refined works, with a tightly written screenplay and minimal grossout comedy. The script is peppered with fantastic one-liners, brought to life by an excellent cast which includes Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry and, of course, Divine.

Hairspray - 1988

It’s not a musical in the sense of its 2007 remake – where the characters spontaneously launch into song and dance numbers – but it does feature many a foot-tapping tune and funky dance number.

This Baltimore is populated not with the cannibals for which it is so famous, but loose beatniks, exploding hairpieces and even Mr Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway, a plus size clothing story for which Tracy becomes a model. So while it’s less chaotic than a film like Female Trouble, it still has plenty of bizarre characters and moments which keep an element of escapism despite its serious theme.

Edgy and satirical, lively and fun, and with a powerful message of inclusion and diversity, this film represents the peak of the Waters/Divine collaboration and is hair-raising from beginning to end.


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