July is the month of Big Fun Movies--at least, that’s the goal to which studios aspire. Why they think we’re more up for big fun in the summer than , say, in October, I'm not sure. And in February we could surely use some belly laughs. But I digress. It’s summer, and the entertainment/family factor of the movies is decidedly ratcheted up.
This was my 12-year-old son’s most anticipated movie of the summer. I’ll admit, I think "The Simpsons" is one of the best-written, funniest, most moral sitcoms on television these days. It has also engendered some of the deepest conversations my husband and I have had with our children. "Simpsons" humor usually comes from one of two places: Either setting the viewer up to expect one thing, then delivering another (as in the naked Bart on a skateboard section of the movie) or allowing the characters (mostly Homer) to say that which polite adults actually think but would never admit. It also tackles tough issues no other show would touch, and does it with depth and humor.
"The Simpson Movie" is very silly and does pack a lot of laughs. It also uses bad language (even Marge finally gets into the act), and cartoon nudity (okay, it’s just Bart). But the movie is never mean-spirited and is often just plain goofy, as when Homer ends up with a pig and makes up a whole "Spider-Pig" action sequence and song to go with it. Whether you should take the kids depends entirely on your view of intelligent, but bawdy humor--the central oxymoron of the series.
I have to admit I came out wondering why, of all the potential plots they had, they went with this one. (Springfield becomes so contaminated that the EPA encases the entire city under a dome). "The Simpsons" is always at its topical best when the humor is character-driven, and Springfield is a certainly a hotbed of characters. I guess they figured they needed an adventure plot and a movie villain to drive the action. Hopefully, with the success of the movie, the writers will have the confidence to do what they do best in the sequel.
One commentator, explaining "Hairspray's" larger-than-anticipated opening, posited that people of all ages were flocking to see John Travolta. Who are they kidding? Everyone I know, adults included, are going for the infectious music and the completely watchable dancers in the young cast. Movie musicals have morphed into such sophisticated productions that it's mighty nice to find one that has heart as well as a great message--sometimes you've got to do the right thing, even if it costs you.
"Hairspray" is a movie that takes an American mantra--"it’s what’s inside that counts"--and plays it to its logical (and happy) conclusion. It doesn't just take on racism, although that's the central theme. It also takes on weight-ism and basically anything that lets the status quo dismiss someone on appearance alone.
Tracy Turnblad, the plus-size young heroine of the story, has a wonderful optimism that drives the plot and eventually transforms everyone who's willing to join her on her quest to Oz (in this case an integrated television dance show). She’s able to lure her agoraphobic mother (sweetly played by, yes, John Travolta) outside, gets the black characters to realize some white girls can indeed dance, and the white kids to realize they have a lot of cool moves yet to learn. With the exception of the villainous Velma and Amber (who start out wretched and have nowhere to go except wretched-er) every character has a sweetness just waiting to be tapped. If a movie can make me believe Christopher Walken (the go-to actor for smarmy) has a sweet center, it has really pulled off something big.
There are few movies that get you humming, tapping, and cheering during the film itself, but "Hairspray" manages to pull it off. Yea, Tracy. You go, girl!