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‘Hairspray’ director calls Travolta foes ‘grumps’

Director Adam Shankman has some advice for moviegoers who stayed away from theaters because they dared not dream of John Travolta playing a woman.
/ Source: Reuters

On the eve of the DVD release for hit musical “Hairspray,” director Adam Shankman has some advice for moviegoers who stayed away from theaters because they dared not dream of John Travolta playing a woman.

Shankman’s advice: quit being such grumps.

“It’s a shame because they were missing out on something that was going to give them a shot in their day,” Shankman told Reuters. “It was an awfully grumpy and surly attitude.”

“Hairspray” is the movie musical based on the stage play of the same name about a teenage girl named Tracy Turnblad who dances her way to local stardom on a 1960’s music show.

Ahead of the movie’s July release and even to this day, some critics and moviegoers could not conceive of Travolta — the sexy star of movies from “Grease” to “Pulp Fiction” — in a fat suit playing Tracy’s perpetually positive mother, Edna.

“There is something weird and disconcerting ... in his failure to find any self-aware fun in the spectacle he is providing,” wrote a critic for Britain’s The Guardian.

But many other people thought differently. At screenings around the world, songs such as “The Nicest Kids in Town” and “Cooties” had girls and boys dancing in the aisles.

“Hairspray” earned standing ovations. Shankman said the biggest converts from foe to fan were heterosexual men. The movie raked in nearly $120 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices and another $75 million internationally.

“At the end of the day, it was such a big shot of joy that people liked the feeling of feeling good,” said Shankman.

But “Hairspray” also made people think about life, racial discrimination and cultural bias against fat folks.

The DVD hits retails shelves on Tuesday and includes the movie along with extra features such as a new song, “I Can Wait,” a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the film, and look back called “The Roots of Hairspray.”

Before it was a stage show, “Hairspray” was a completely different, narrative film from writer/director John Waters.

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But the DVD has another purpose: to help “Hairspray” get Oscar nominations during Hollywood’s upcoming awards season. In recent years, the promotions around DVDs have helped keep a film in the minds of people who give Hollywood awards.

Shankman considers himself an Oscar outsider, said he felt fortunate simply to get the job directing “Hairspray,” and sent his acknowledgements the way of the hair, makeup, costumes, set designs and, of course, his actors, including Travolta.

“I just watched the DVD and it’s beautiful, but it also made me think back to what a really courageous thing he did,” said Shankman. “That was risky.”