A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
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