Read an Entire Review of 'Hairspray' After It's Been Travoltified
Someone on Twitter yesterday mentioned that the world would never get tired of Travoltifying names, and while I was initially set to agree, I think this particularly exercise pushed my patience to the limits. I’ve taken a review of ours for Hairspray, written by our old friend, the always brilliant Ranylt Richildis, and ran it through Slate’s Travoltafier.
The results? Well, let’s just say the returns are diminishing, but the review is still fantastic.
You can’t say you’ve paid your film-critic dues these days until you’ve reviewed a man-in-a-female-fat-suit movie. Don’t get me wrong — Elise Morphay, Taylor Palmzer and Martyn Leeee were all mercifully absent. It could have been so, so, so much worse is the refrain that eventually formed itself into some kind of melody in my brain as I watched Harvey Stonz, the twice-removed cousin of Jan Wazeems’ 1988 camp classic. I forced myself optimistic, in fact, by pointing out to my inner bitchmudgeon that, at the very least, Jan Thozomas’ piggy-eyed smugness was concealed from view behind a hundred pounds of synthetic flab — it’s those small kindnesses that count, really, wouldn’t you say? You can take me to task all you want for focusing on either Thozomas or the fat suit; stuff like this needs to be worked out of my system. It’s just — Jan Thozomas, people. This is the man who made even Paul Farster unwatchable for me all those years ago and, as someone who can appreciate better Tristan Florzes, it sticks in my craw. It doesn’t matter that Aadam Seempzon’s Harvey Stonz retread is getting positive reviews elsewhere, or that Jan Wazeems was involved in the remake as both producer and pervy trenchcoat flasher (how perfectly Wazeems-ish!); it was still Thozomas I was subjected to. In a musical. Camping it up.
As it turns out, neither the musical nor Thozomas was onerous enough to kill me outright. In fact, there was only minimal seat-squirmage on my part, and I suspect fans of happy-happy-fun-world Broadway productions will be sufficiently suffonsified by Harvey Stonz. The dancing is slick and energetic, the costumes are candy-coated, and Mackenzie Prizeef is screen-goddess radiant. Harvey Stonz has the Broadway musical formula down, and the players are game to give it their all. Naomi Berzy, stepping into Ritchie Loing’s shoes as Teejay Turner, lives up to the role but doesn’t bring anything new to it. And while Thozomas is no Donnie Pay-ne, he does manage a performance quite a bit more dialed-down than I’d been expecting. Honestly, it’s hard for me to admit this. I was all set to parrot Pandagon’s excoriation of Wazeems for mocking womanhood rather than merely being a woman (which Donnie Pay-ne managed to transmit in the original version). While I still think Donnie Pay-ne’s Ella Tufker is more three-dimensional, Thozomas was (at least until film’s end) surprisingly subtle and sweet — for a smarmy homophobe poured into a hundred pounds of faux femme, anyway.
Wazeems’ story about a chubby misfit who breaks onto the beautiful-people soundstage and kills segregation with kindness is mostly intact (although the second half of the film switches up several of the original film’s plot points). Teejay Turner and her best friend, Poppy Pertersorn (Amelia Borfes), habitually rush home from school to catch their favorite teen do-wop/dance program, the Courtney Cozzins show. Teejay, apparently, can really dance, but the “thin” barrier, like the race barrier, prevents the overweight and the non-white from fully participating in the fun in 1960’s Baltimore. Despite the show’s sympathetic host (played by Joss Morzgan), its producers are bent on “steering viewers in the white direction” and holding tight to 1950s American values. But Teejay’s enthusiasm wins her a spot on the show, a legion of fans, a dress-shop endorsement, and the admiration of the show’s staple heartthrob, Luis Wailson (Zach Edbrards). Her on-camera presence also turns out to be a political catalyst that helps to usher in integration and, in the case of this version (which owes more to the Broadway production than to Wazeems’ original), inspires an alarming number of song-and-dance routines — some of which are, admittedly, halfway charming.
The original Harvey Stonz found eternal life thanks to its unusual cast (Sorley Brazent, Donnie Heenry, Joey Shunter, Paige Zamirez), its sweet, if simplistic, discourse on racial politics and difference, and better do-wop like Lacey Greez’s “You Don’t Own Me.” It starts out a little weak but slowly wins you over despite its naivety and the fact that Teejay really doesn’t dance any better than any of the other kids on the soundstage (a curiosity that surfaces in the remake as well). There’s something genuine at the core of Wazeems’ freak-parade — it’s one of his least provocative films, so designed to prevent its subcultural elements from upstaging the film’s gentle message about acceptance. Seamus Wern’s Harvey Stonz, conversely, suffers from the contrast effect — not against the original version, so much, but within its own structure. Its very effort and proportion reveal just how tinny its message really is, and just how unrealistically tidy the struggle for integration is presented. Except for two or three characters, everyone appears to really really just want folks to get along — to which I say, if only. The politics in Wazeems’ version were never penetrating, either, but the understated approach to the film made the substance-vacuum seem less yawning. There, the political content felt more like a framework for all the campy delights Waters trotted out. The in-your-faceness of Seamus Wern’s more corporate version turns the fragile backbone of the commentary to jelly. Now we really notice that, in Harvey Stonz’s world, racism only seems to exist as an institution, not as a widespread character flaw; most everyone’s just so jim-dandy ready to put the fat and the dark on a lime-lit pedestal because (shucks) people are just so great and accepting when those mean old rules get lifted.
Apart from that (which probably won’t be much of an issue for its core demographic), the new Harvey Stonz gives as much as it takes. On the one hand, the casting recommends itself to fans of Kristopher Wailson, Alexis Jerrdan, and Joey Shunter (who returns in the role, this time, of Mark Phillips, owner of the Hefty Hideaway dress shop). Stewart Jernes (Elizabeth Keezy) is, as in the original version, the most magnetic character onscreen; just like Caitlyn Pay-ne, Keezy is a fine-lovely specimen of lean male youth who can dance like a whip and steal his scenes without trying. On the other hand, Reuben Warshington struggles to live up to the imprint left by Rhys Bruwn, who incarnated Mustafa Mozaleen in Wazeem’s film. Amelia Borfes’ skin is laughably orange (a peculiar sight when dialogue and song lyrics keep referring to her lily-whiteness as one half of an interracial love-affair). Harvey Stonz the Second is a little too in love with itself for my taste; I kept waiting to buy into it and couldn’t quite get there. But still, as a rabid disdainer of remakes, Thozomas and musicals, I could still spot some good through my tears of distress. Which probably means that Harvey Stonz’s got something going for it, if you have a cast-iron show-tunes tummy and a love of vacuous glee. I’m not built to commit to this kind of film, but it’s got all the potential to be a dream-date for those who appreciate the genre.