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MOVIES | THE DIRECTOR'S CRAFT

A wholehearted effort to keep `Hairspray's' sheen

July 08, 2007|Sheigh Crabtree | Special to The Times

TALKING to director Adam Shankman about "Hairspray" is a bit like swimming in a river of raw emotions. Wiry and wired -- he's in perpetual motion -- the 42-year-old has definitely put his heart, if not his career, on the line remaking this story first told by John Waters in the 1988 indie-cult hit, which then morphed into a Tony-winning Broadway musical. No one has failed with "Hairspray" yet.

"Here's what I'm scared of," says Shankman, carefully parsing the words over drinks at a Beverly Hills hotel. "This movie is so right-thinking at its core and its heart is in such a special place that if critics are mean to this movie it will hurt me."

Mixed in with some good early buzz, there already have been a few slings and arrows -- a British cultural critic decrying Hollywood's penchant for remakes singled out "Hairspray," sight unseen, and a gay blogger offended by John Travolta's star turn has called for gays to boycott.

At its core, the movie, which lands in theaters July 20, is a story of outsiders trying to break through -- the overweight teen Tracy, played by newcomer Nikki Blonsky, who dreams of becoming one of the cool kids who dance on Baltimore's local version of "American Bandstand"; Tracy's mother, a larger-than-life, housebound, self-esteem-challenged Travolta in drag; the black teens looking to integrate the show, with the implication, of course, of much more at stake. The outsider story echoes Shankman's own: Having made his mark in Hollywood thus far by turning low-brow, low-expectation, critically panned comedies into box-office hits, he got his chance at gaining some artistic cred.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 10, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Adam Shankman: An article in Sunday Calendar about "Hairspray" director Adam Shankman said that the film's producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, were Oscar-winning producers of "Chicago." Although Meron and Zadan were executive producers on that 2002 film, only producer Martin Richards received the Oscar for best picture. Also, the article said that the 2005 film "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" was a Columbia Pictures release. It was from 20th Century Fox.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Adam Shankman: An article in Sunday Calendar about "Hairspray" director Adam Shankman said the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. hosted a reception for him and his film. New Line Cinema, the film's distributor, hosted the gathering.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 15, 2007 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 95 words Type of Material: Correction
Adam Shankman: An article last Sunday about "Hairspray" director Adam Shankman said that the film's producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, were Oscar-winning producers of "Chicago." Although Meron and Zadan were executive producers on that 2002 film, only producer Martin Richards received the Oscar for best picture. Also, the article said that the 2005 film "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" was a Columbia Pictures release. It was from Twentieth Century Fox. Also, the article said that the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. hosted a reception for Shankman. New Line Cinema, the film's distributor, hosted the gathering.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 15, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 100 words Type of Material: Correction
Adam Shankman: An article in the July 8 Calendar about "Hairspray" director Adam Shankman said the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. hosted a reception for him and his film. New Line Cinema, the film's distributor, hosted the gathering. The article also said that the film's producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, were Oscar-winning producers of "Chicago." Although Meron and Zadan were executive producers on that 2002 film, only producer Martin Richards received the Oscar for best picture. Also, the article said that the 2005 film "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" was a Columbia Pictures release. It was from 20th Century Fox.

Here's Shankman again: "Now that I'm finally really proud of something, if they," as in the critics, "say this one isn't good either, it will be kind of ... taxing."

There's a back story as to why Shankman is so primed for a fight.

His undisputed talent thus far has been his knack for luring so many willing moviegoers into multiplexes. The real art in his 2005 yuck-a-thon "Cheaper By the Dozen 2," which he not only directed but also appeared in as Clam Bake Chef, was that Columbia Pictures reaped nearly $130 million worldwide. Shankman had pulled the trick earlier the same year when "The Pacifier," starring Vin Diesel in a baby sling, made $200 million with its crude crotch, diaper and dog-bite gags.

"I've done so many things I'm not super-proud of," he says. "The comedies I've been slapped onto were always movies under the radar. The ones everybody thought were going to be big failures that ended up doing really well."

If prestige projects and awards have eluded him, this newest endeavor, with Travolta in pink sequins and a fat suit, might change things. It's still early and the movie isn't out, yet the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the folks behind the Golden Globes, have already hosted a reception for Shankman. And before "Oprah" wrapped the season, the host devoted an hour to the "Hairspray" cast.

Inside the studio, head of production Toby Emmerich has openly bet colleagues that the $74-million project will earn $200 million domestically.

All studio bets aside, marketplace conditions will ultimately dictate "Hairspray's" hold. Besides the difficulties of making an impression in a crowded summer, which means opening between "Harry Potter" and "The Simpsons," there's also a backlash from some camps against Broadway musical remakes. Then there's the intense scrutiny generated by Travolta's turn as a trussed and stuffed Edna Turnblad, a role that earned Harvey Fierstein a Tony during the Broadway run and was immortalized by the late drag queen Divine in Waters' original film. Early reviewers have complained that Travolta's Baltimore accent rings false.

Last month, Kevin Naff, editor of the Washington Blade, a gay weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C., called on the gay community to boycott "Hairspray" because Travolta is a prominent member of Scientology, which claims to cure homosexuality via reparative therapy. This is a topic that makes Shankman turn red and sputter, then order a water with no ice and a Belvedere vodka with soda and two limes.

"John Travolta is, like, one of the most gay-friendly people I know," says Shankman, who is gay. "He doesn't bring religion or Scientology into the workplace. And everybody on our set was gay. The producers are gay, the writers are gay, the composer and lyricist are gay, the director is gay, all of the choreography team is gay."

Dragging in Travolta

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