Monday, February 6, 2023

Recasting 2007 (supporting): "Hairspray"

I had a different movie in mind for 2007 for over a year. The closer I got to having to write about it, the less convinced I was about it being appropriate for the spirit of what I've tried to do for this project (for anyone curious, it was Tilda Swinton's role in Michael Clayton). I decided to take a look back at movies that were released in 2007, and realized that I had NEVER seen Hairspray. What's weird is that I'd been rather familiar with several songs from the soundtrack, but had never taken the time to sit down and watch the whole movie. A few weeks ago, I finally did. 

I was relieved pretty quickly that I'd found a much more natural fit for a film choice for 2007. One of the things I like is that it's nice departure from so much of the heavier stuff I'd chosen the past several weeks. I realize that The Station Agent and Sideways have comedic elements, but Hairspray is full-on musical, in addition to it being a comedy. Michelle Pfeiffer's role of Velma Von Tussle, the racist villainess TV manager, seemed a fun turn to imagine Meryl tackling. 

Directed by notable choreographer, Adam Shankman, the film was a screen adaptation of the 2002 Broadway show, which in turn was an adaptation of John Waters's 1988 film. It takes place in the 60s in Baltimore, where young Tracy Turnblad's (portrayed by newcomer Nikki Blonsky) biggest dream is to be one of the dancers on the Corny Collins Show. Tracy meets resistance from Velma, who not only wants to protect her own daughter's prime spot on the show, but is also pushing hard against the rising tide of ending the segregation of the show's black and white dancers. 

It's a true villain role, one of which would be very few in Meryl's canon. We've seen aspects of a character like this in her work. The Manchurian Candidate, The Devil Wears Prada, Rendition, Big Little Lies. But this character has that extra layer of being racist and sizist, and so overtly, that there's not really much redeemable about her. I think the value in the characterization is how much the actor can make us dislike her. This draws a stronger emotional reaction for the protagonist(s), which ultimately makes for a more deeply felt experience when watching the movie. Plus, Meryl would get to sing a bit (which up to that point in her career she hadn't really done a lot of). God bless Michelle Pfeiffer and I love her, but Meryl has a much stronger singing voice and would've done Velma's solo greater justice. 

There are some similar threads in character to that of Meryl's performance as Dee Dee Allen in 2020's The Prom, but with a much more provocative and sinister nature. Meryl doesn't tend toward films that include a major component of sex appeal or a sort of femme fatale, so this would actually be a bit of a stretch for her. But I enjoy that. And I can picture Meryl being interested in participating in a story that tackles the prejudices that culminated in the Civil Rights Movement. Especially one that looks like it was a ton of fun to make. 

I was a bit surprised by how many big stars were actually in this movie. John Travolta of course was lauded for his cross-dressing turn as Tracy's mother, Edna. But there were a lot of cameos (notably John Waters and Ricki Lake) and smaller roles from the likes of Allison Janney, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, James Marsden, Jerry Stiller, Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, and Brittany Snow. Travolta was also praised for his Baltimore accent, something I can't imagine Meryl wouldn't have included at least a hint of in her character, assuming she played her as someone who'd lived in the area for a long time. 

Hairspray went on to earn big bucks at the box office, tallying $203 million on a $75 budget. At the time, it set a record for the highest-grossing opening weekend for a film based on a Broadway musical. This record was broken only a year later by a little movie called Mamma Mia! The film did remarkably well with critics as well, with a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 81 on Metacritic. While it didn't garner too many high-profile acting nominations (Blonksy and Travolta earned noms at the Golden Globes for Actress and Supporting Actor in a Musical or Comedy, respectively), the cast managed a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble. 


  1. You've caught me off guard with this! I never even considered Hairspray when looking through the movies of 2007 but I can totally get on board! I remember this being a big hit movie but not one I've seen. I agree it is always fun to consider Meryl in glamorous, comedic roles to play with the perception of her as a dramatic actress, which I guess she had up until around this time in her career. Plus this movie has the dreamy James Marsden!

    Off topic, but I remember wishing Meryl had been cast in John Water's hilarious and subversive "Serial Mom" in the 90s, although Kathleen Turner is iconic in the role of murderous housewife Beverly!

    I too considered Michael Clayton. I would have loved Meryl to be at the right age for the shape-shifting role of Bob Dylan played by Blanchett in "I'm Not There" but alas I'm reaching too far. What a gift of a role though..

    I will opt for the role of real life socialite and activist Joanne Herring in "Charlie Wilson's War". The actual person was in her early 50s at the time the movie is set so Meryl would have been a good fit. I mainly chose this as it was a well received movie with an important story to tell, directed by Mike Nichols, who just made magic with Meryl. This has reminded me of how we missed getting one last "Masterclass" from them.

    1. Ugh totally agree the Bob Dylan role would've been cool to see. And OMG can you believe I've never seen all of Charlie Wilson's War?! A friend of mine and I always make fun of Julia Roberts's accent in that. And the fact that Masterclass never happened still hurts to this day.

  2. OMG I would have loved Meryl (at an appropriate age) to play Blanchett's Bob Dylan role. In fact, I would have loved her to play many of Blanchett's roles (TAR, Carol, etc) and opposite her (Notes on a Scandal, her Broadway play - The Maids, etc). Talking about Blanchett, if she were to win her 3rd Oscar, I predict she'll be the one to tie or even break Katharine Hepburn's record because she's still in her 50s and has a long way to go. I used to think Meryl can do it but the truth is she's now in her 70s and great roles may be few and far between. Anyway, just a thought...

    1. I too would have loved Meryl to have a role like Tar written for her. And I agree about Notes On A Scandal wholeheartedly!

      I would never count Meryl out, if she decides she wants to I'm sure she can still get some great scripts financed. I'm thinking of the likes of Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, both 16 years older than Meryl and still going strong, and they're just two examples! :)