Hairspray

Movie review by
Heather Boerner, Common Sense Media
Hairspray Movie Poster Image
A kitschy teen fantasy you can dance to.
  • PG
  • 1988
  • 92 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 18 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Tracy is a great female role model, especially for larger teens (though she does lie to her mother on occasion); despite a constant barrage of racism and homophobia from other characters, the teens fight for what's right -- desegregation.

Violence

A fistfight leaves Tracy's boyfriend in a wheelchair, but there's nothing graphic and no blood.

Sex

Some heavy petting, and Penny tells Seaweed to "go to second." A beatnick encourages the gang to "take off our clothes and smoke reefer."

Language

Lots of racial and homophobic epithets and general cursing.

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

The kids are offered drinks, but they don't take them. Corny Collins drinks from a bottle of liquor.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tracy, the main character in Hairspray, lies to her parents and sneaks off to make out with her boyfriend. She breaks the law by participating in a sit-in for civil rights, and ends up in reform school. A peer spreads lies and rumors about Tracy, including that she's a "whore," was naked in a car, and that she has cockroaches in her hair. Set in the early 1960s, the movie also depicts acts of racism and homophobia. People are called "queer" and "f--gots," and a white woman calls Motormouth Maybelle a "native woman," even though she's from Baltimore, too. There is some fighting; Tracy's boyfriend has his legs broken, and another character gets a concussion.

User Reviews

Parent of a 3, 7, and 9 year old Written by[email protected] December 10, 2009

Perfect for preteens and adults

Brilliant film on many levels. Our kids (9 and 6) loved the singing and dancing and my wife and I thought the broader themes were also terrific. We've s... Continue reading
Adult Written byAntoinette April 9, 2008

Entertainment for the older kid crowd

Hairspray is a fun movie to watch, but be warned, it's not for younger kids. Lots of sexual innuendos and body language. I would not recommend it to chil... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old August 22, 2010

HeeHee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I really like this movie. It's very touching but kinda weird and offensive when Penny's mom shocked her with a stick because she's dating a black... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old December 12, 2009
i hated this movie

What's the story?

In HAIRSPRAY, Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) is a Baltimore high school student who wants nothing more than to dance on Corny Collins' TV show. She practices the mashed potato, the twist, and other current dance crazes (the film is set in 1962) in her living room while her mother (Divine) irons an endless supply of shirts and slacks. When the show holds a hop in her neighborhood, Tracy and her dim-witted best friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) rush over, big hair and all, to join the fun. But Tracy is more than just another girl at the hop -- she's also one of the best dancers. Soon she finds herself a member of the Corny Collins Council of regular dancers, dating the cutest boy on the show and favored to win Miss Auto Show 1963. But will mean girl Amber (Colleen Fitzpatrick) and her parents (Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry, vamping it up) undermine her chances with their vicious rumors and subterfuge? And will Tracy be able to help her friends Seaweed and Motormouth Maybelle dance on the still-segregated show?

Is it any good?

This movie encourages viewers to dream of dating the cutest boy, being the most popular girl, and having the biggest hair, but it also creates a world more realistic than its counterparts. The hero is a fat girl, and the dancing is segregated. That Tracy deals with all of this with childlike enthusiasm and class speaks well of a movie about a white trash girl who dreams big.

Ricki Lake is easily the best thing about Hairspray. Drag queen Divine is extra fun as Tracy's mother, but it's Lake who grabs and keeps your attention. She imbues Tracy dignity and confidence that you rarely see in celluloid fat girls. Because this is a John Waters movie, there's some gross-out humor, and much name-calling and cursing. The director isn't one for subtlety -- he makes his points with a sledge hammer. Lucky for viewers, Waters also has a campy and silly side, and at least this once, he's overcome with infectious optimism.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Tracy's confidence and determination in Hairspray. How does Tracy react to name-calling and rumors about her? What does she think of her body, and how does it affect her popularity? How do other people react to her body?

  • Why do some of the white characters seem to fear the black characters? Can you think of any examples where the same fear exists today? How have race-relations changed from the time in which the movie is set?

Movie details

  • In theaters: February 26, 1988
  • On DVD or streaming: September 26, 1995
  • Cast: Divine, Ricki Lake, Sonny Bono
  • Director: John Waters
  • Studio: New Line
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Run time: 92 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG
  • MPAA explanation: language, thematic elements and sexuality.

For kids who love cult classics

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