I’ve seen two movies over the past couple of days, one that was newly released on DVD and one that just opened in the theaters.  Both are being sold as family fare, but I think the first movie has some problems in that category, while the second movie is truly good family entertainment.

The first movie is Hairspray, based on the John Waters’ Broadway hit of the same name which, in turn, John Waters based on his own non-musical movie of the same name.  The premise is simple:  An open-hearted, overweight teenage girl, living in 1962 Maryland, helps integrate a dance show.  Along the way, she and the cool guy fall in love, and her overweight mother overcomes her agoraphobia and becomes a powerhouse outside of the home.  The “hook” is that John Travolta plays the girl’s mother (and, I should note that, whether in the original movie or on Broadway, a man always plays the mother).

I had problems with the movie’s first 20 minutes, which threw in a few too many sleazy points.   The lead character, Tracy Turnblad (played by the delightful and talented newcomer Nikki Blonsky) opens the movie b singing the cheerful ditty “Good morning, Baltimore.”  The knowing ironical point is that the Baltimore she greets with such verve is a sleazy place, replete with flashers and pregnant women in bars smoking and getting drunk.  Fortunately, these references went over the kids’ heads, but I still found them unnecessary and unpleasant.  Likewise, I didn’t appreciate the scene where the female stars of the TV show stuff their bras, while the male stars stuff their pants.  Again, it went over the kids’ heads, but it was a completely unnecessary little bit of sleaze thrown in that didn’t advance the plot in any way.

The other thing I didn’t like about the movie, a point that suddenly got magnified near movie’s end, is that the heroine’s best friend has a mother who is sadistic, over-protective, and nasty.   That portrayal could just have been comedic, and the character’s nastiness was necessary to movie the plot forward but, unfortunately, the movie makers didn’t stop there.  Instead, entirely gratuitously, they made her a fervent Catholic.  That wasn’t comedic, that was anti-religious.  Fortunately, that too went over my kids’ heads.

Once the movie got over these knowing references to anti-culture, however, it wasn’t bad at all.  The songs are very nice, and the singers sold them well.  I appreciated the fact that the movie makers kept their heads and, rather than portraying all whites evil racists, managed to limit the evil racism to the station manager, which Michelle Pfeiffer played in wonderfully over-the-top mode.  Everyone else was either oblivious to integration versus segregation, or in favor of integration.  That was smart, because I don’t see a pop movie selling well if the movie-makers demonize most of the audience.

If anything, I thought the movie was actually racist to blacks.  Tracy is rather blissfully unaware of  blacks until she gets sent to detention.  Then, in that room for the wrongdoers, she’s surrounded by them, all dancing their hearts out.  I thought that was two stereotypes for the price of one:  (1) blacks as troublemakers and slackers and (2) blacks as dancing fools.  The movies in the 1930s and 1940s couldn’t have done any better in racist, stereotypical portrayals.  The other racist moment had the black lead character, who is struggling to untie Tracy’s best friend (tied to her bed by the sadistic Catholic mother) eventually give up the effort and simply produce a lethal switchblade.  Again, I thought that played nicely into the worst stereotypes about young black males.

What my kids complained about throughout the whole movie — bless their little hearts — was the “butts.”  “Why are they wiggling and slapping their butts all the time?”  The kids were absolutely right.  The camera and the choreographers were obsessed with derrières, and the kids picked up on how vulgar it was.

So, my overall review is mixed.  Aside from the butt wiggling and slapping, the musical numbers were charming and well done.  The movie was not anti-white generally, and I appreciated that.  Nikki Blonsky is a real talent.  John Travolta was horribly miscast, although he redeemed himself somewhat when he joined with Christopher Walken, who played Tracy Turnblad’s father, to sing and dance to the charming “You’re Timeless to Me.”  The movie would have benefited substantially, though, if it had abandoned the sleazy touches, the semi-subliminal anti-Catholic attack, and the negative stereotypes about blacks.

I can give a much better review to the movie we saw today, Disney’s Enchanted.  Rotten Tomatoes, which collects movie reviews and ranks movies according to the positive and negative reviews, gives it a 93% “fresh” rating, which means that an enormous number of critics liked it.  For once, I agree with the critics.  The movie is delightful.  The premise, as you may know, is that a fairy tale girl, who is ridiculously good and pretty, is on the verge of marrying Prince Edward, when his evil mother, who is both queen and witch, sends her to New York where there are no “happily ever afters.”  The joke is that this cheerful, loving, optimistic soul runs headlong into New York cynicism, all distilled into a divorced divorce attorney.

The movie’s first strength is the strong casting.  Amy Adams, who plays Giselle, the heroine, manages to carry off that romantic sweetness without becoming cloying or saccharine.  Patrick Dempsey, with those world-weary eyes, works as a jaded divorce lawyer who nevertheless still has the capacity to recognize true goodness.  James Marsden (who, incidentally, was also in Hairspray) does a great comedic turn as a valiant, but vain, prince who lacks any real personality beyond his swash and buckle.  And Susan Sarandon, unsurprisingly, makes a very good wicked witch.

The costumes are great, too, especially Giselle’s, which capture her zaniness princess-ness in gray, rushed New York.  The movie’s funny parts are funny, the romantic parts are romantic, the musical numbers are musical — it all works.

I can highly recommend this movie as a great family movie.  My only caveat is that very small children may find parts of the movie scary.  This is especially the case at the end when the wicked queen/witch shows her true colors.  I’d be careful with anyone under 5 or a kid prone to nightmares.


14 Responses

  1. Thanks for the reviews, BW…I will skip the first and see the second.

  2. And Susan Sarandon, unsurprisingly, makes a very good wicked witch.

    Ouch, Book. I laughed out loud at that.

    Your second review reminds me of Stardust. I saw it after Laer recommended it.

    It is also a fairy tale. The main plot, however, is about true love. The male hero goes from someone unsure about himself and unable to charm women, into something much better. I loved the plot twists given that I was half convinced in the beginning that this was going to be an incredibly depressing and unjust movie. The plot in the beginning is just outrageous in how the male protagonist simply takes a lot of crud all the time. Guy had no spine.

    I stayed with it, though. Which was a good thing. The music was also rather captivating, especially the ending theme. It is not musical as in people sing along, but the music set the mood quite well. Whether the mood was funny, daring, hillarious, or mystic.

    Much of the story contains incredible moments of cunning and political backstabbing. Except the backstabbing and cunning are alternately fearsome and funny. It would shift from serious and somber to comedy. This kind of humour suits my grim sense of humour rather well.

  3. I can’t help myself:

    ” I am, therefore, very proud to have placed in this week’s election. You can unbait that breath now.”

    It’s ‘bate’ the aphetic form of ‘abate’. To wait with bated breath means to wait with your breath abated–holding your breath….

    It’s up there with “mute point’ and “irregardless”.

    However, I’ve had a soft spot for “orientate” since I was a young Lieutenant.

    If the old Sergeant pointing at the terrain model doesn’t first grab his crotch first and say: “Lemme orientate you to this here terrain model”, I don’ t trust him he’s a neophyte.

    A woman at work tried to get away with “Presentate”, but I didn’t let it pass….

    Don’t get me started on mixed methaphors…. I heard “Pull a rabbit out of his ass” last week. These are educated people–defense engineers and scientists!

    Oh well… Inside of every sow’s ear is a silver lining….

    Yeah, I’m still in the grips of the rum eggnog.

  4. A ‘methaphor’ is a metaphor on meth…

    That was unintentionally funny! I’m going to use the ‘methaphor’ thing sometime!

    Seriously: In the grips of rum eggnog….

  5. You know, Gray, I debated back and forth with myself on that one, but was too lazy to check Sigh…. It’s fixed now. Thanks.

  6. The joke is that this cheerful, loving, optimistic soul runs headlong into New York cynicism, all distilled into a divorced divorce attorney.

    That joke wasn’t so much funny as it was sad.

    Amy Adams, who plays Giselle, the heroine, manages to carry off that romantic sweetness without becoming cloying or saccharine.

    I don’t get into criticisms of acting. It is enough for me that I liked her.

    My only caveat is that very small children may find parts of the movie scary.

    The roaches creeped me out, Book.

    The queen was funny since she chose the wrong combat spell. Her tactics were ridiculous with the resources at her command. And every witch and sorceress should know that they always have a close perimeter guard like a golem or zombie ; ) Prevents those close combat moments while casting spells. Even gun powder armed units required a guard of pikemen, back before the rof got near to automatic level. Unwise, unwise. Also did you notice that the evil witch was projecting her faults upon Giselle? Giselle didn’t have an evil scheming bone in her body. So obviously the plotful witch needed to ensure her security, which eventually caused a Greek hubris event.

    “The shower was wonderful” line by Giselle was a funny joke since it implied a couple of things that went well with the scenario joke.

    The character development of the Prince and the side kick villain was sparse, but at least they had some.

    The Prince had a pretty good rapier too.

    I like the catchy songs too. But I’m a sucker for nice songs sung by nice women.

    Now that I’ve seen the movie, it seems both movies are about true love.

    The music used for atmospheric setting was fairy tale funny in that it would always repeat itself at those obvious points. Everytime the Prince would start up the charge, the music would increase in pace to match.

  7. I loved the epilogue, Book.. They indeed lived stronger than ever.

  8. Only a nincompoop of a parent would take their elementary-age children to a John Waters movie, regardless of the rating, reviews, recomendation or anything else. It’s called common sense.

  9. Greg, your charm never ceases to amaze me. The movie is rated PG, which is the rating nowadays for all but the most harmless children’s movies. Using “G” as your guide leaves you with only Disney classics and maybe one other movie per year as potential movies for your kids. Frankly, even the massive Disney “High School Musical” hits have butt wiggling and slapping. It’s a sign of our culture’s vulgarity, but hard to avoid. If my kids don’t see these movies at home, they see them at their friends’ houses.

    In any event, it was not my decision to have them watch the movie, and I myself watched it with them solely to stand as a values bulwark between them and anything Hollywood chose to insert into a PG movie. In other words, I was the parental guidance.

  10. Greg brings his usual high level of discourse to the blog. Now Bookworm can add nincompoop to her list of titles bestowed by Greg. How lucky you are, Book!

  11. Book, don’t make excuses for your own personal bad judgement. You insult yourself. A John Waters movie is a John Waters movie.

  12. Only a nincompoop of a parent would take their elementary-age children to a John Waters movie, regardless of the rating, reviews, recomendation or anything else. It’s called common sense.

    As you can see Book, the g machine strikes again. Not only different parenting philosophies but different political philosophies as well. Of course, those two may be just about the same thing in the end.

    His Way is superior, Book, because he knows the ultimate source of enlightenment. Oh yes he does.

    You insult yourself. A John Waters movie is a John Waters movie.

    Don’t worry about insulting yourself, Book, g has that covered in spades. Prejudice, a Leftist trait since they like to stay on one host. Keep things predictable and easy, in a way.

    The philosophy is simple. Once you become blacklisted by the Left, you are forever on such a list. There is no personal redemption for those that have betrayed the Left, Book. There wasn’t for Hitler and the Nazis.

  13. Hi Bookworm–Thanks for the nice Thanksgiving message and especially thanks for these two movie reviews. My daughter has been wanting to see “Enchanted” and didn’t want to see “Hairspray” after seeing the trailer, so I guess we’re doing something right here. We’ll go together to see “Enchanted,” which sounds worth the time and bucks.

    I too find all the butt-wiggling and butt references in movies to be vulgar and offputting. So do my kids.

  14. […] / wrote up a wonderful piece on Movies Bookworm RoomCheck out some of it here […]

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