I finally saw (follow me closely here) the 2007 movie version of the 2002 Broadway musical version of the 1988 movie about a fat girl in Baltimore in 1962 who wants to be on a teen dance show on local TV.
And "Hairspray" is pretty good. 1962-style rock music wasn't as good as 1956 or 1965 rock music, but it works reasonably well in a musical. Indeed, many of the hits of 1962 were written by professional songwriters in Manhattan who grew up on Rodgers and Hammerstein, so the musical vocabularies were much more similar than they would become soon after. When roaring electric guitars came into fashion -- say, on the Kinks' 1964 single "You Really Got Me" -- popular music and Broadway started to permanently diverge since you couldn't hear the lyrics anymore. But the pre-British Invasion rock and roll sound wasn't incompatible with story-telling through song.
And the best thing about the latest version of "Hairspray" is that it's mostly music, with spoken dialogue taking up only a small fraction of the whole movie.
Because it's a musical, and a story originally written by John Waters, they had to gratuitously gay it up. Because that's what people expect from musicals these days -- gratuitous gayness -- which is why musicals are so much more popular now than in the B.G.G. (Before Gratuitous Gayness) era. So they had John Travolta play the heroine's mom, and he does a good job. Travolta doesn't play Edna Turnblad like a drag queen, but more like a nice middle-aged fat lady. Unfortunately, his voice is too low. (Can't they digitally raise the pitch of a voice these days? If not, he could have just spoken his dialogue slowly and then they could have played it back faster, Alvin & the Chipmunks-style.)
Anyway, the hard-hitting controversial message of the movie is that civil rights is good. And that's because black people are better dancers than white people. Evil is represented by the bigoted villainess Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), the producer of the Corny Collins dance party show, who only lets one day of the week be Negro Day on the show. And she allows the white kids on the show to only do traditional boring WASP dances like the rumba, cha-cha, and tango. But when the spunky heroine gets interviewed on the show, she shocks Velma by saying, when asked to tell the TV audience a little bit about herself:
Tracy Turnblad: Well, I watch the Corny Collins show everyday and I do nothing else! ... I also hope to be the first female president... or a Rockette!
Corny Collins: As your first act as president, what would you do?
Tracy Turnblad: I'd make every day Negro Day!
And, when it comes to dancing, that, indeed, is what happened. Starting in the 1960s, white Americans, who used to dance all the time, started sitting on their couches and watching blacks dance on TV. Before the Black Pride era, whites would take lessons to learn how to dance. White people are good at taking lessons.
They would especially take lessons in Latin American dance styles like the ones that Nazi vixen Velma von Tussle has the white kids on the show doing. But American pop culture got de-Latinized during the 1960s, so white people stopped dancing as improvisatory African-American dancing became the fashion. But white people aren't good at making up their own dances. So, they got embarrassed because they weren't as cool as blacks, and they went and sat down.
Fortunately, we have professional dancers to celebrate for us this great stride forward in "Hairspray," which we can now watch from our couches.