Saturday, January 5, 2008

2007 Supporting Actress Blogathon

the following is a part of the 2007 supporting actress blogathon
for more entries, visit

Last year, I had the privilege of discovering the blog of StinkyLulu, as well as his perennial Supporting Actress Blogathon, which I gleefully took part in last year. In all honesty, I was growing worried by November, when I realized that I had hardly seen any original films, but if the Blogathon should come with any rules, it should be that you don't go into a film expecting the Blogathon Performance; it will come to you. And on a hot, lonely August evening, I was at an overpriced multiplex at Union Square being dazzled by the performance of ...


There are plenty of admirable performances in this movie based on a musical based on a movie -- John Travolta gamely plays the zaftig Baltimore housewife Edna Turnblad as straightforwardly as a male actor could, and I would shamefully watch Amanda Bynes read the phonebook -- but the richest performance of the film belongs to Pfeiffer, who manages to play up the campy aspects of the film just enough without crashing through the ceiling that sends it over-the-top.

Velma von Tussle is a bigoted, racist woman who will stop at nothing to prevent anyone but her daughter, Amber, from winning Miss Teenage Hairspray on the local cable station, which she owns.

The film is so exhaustingly lighthearted, even when dealing with its subject of racism and bigotry, that losing the theme could have been a real danger. But with her pitch-perfect tantrums delivered in her signature purr, Pfeiffer's Velma prevents us from forgetting that Hairspray isn't just about the fat girl saving the day, but about triumphing over a very real problem.

There are several scenes of Velma showing her true colors --including a racially charged smackdown of Queen Latifah's Motormouth Maybelle -- but most vicious as far as the script is concerned is when Velma and her daughter run into the overweight Turnblad girls (Edna and her daughter Tracy) on a night on the town. "Tracy has certainly REDEFINED our standards!" Velma laughs, and it's laced with the perfect evil soccer mom underhanded delivery that's likely all too common in the politics of today's suburbia.

Only later in the film do Velma's layers get peeled away, when she attempts to seduce Edna's husband Wilbur (a plot point written specifically for the remake). Yes, it plays up Pfeiffer's sex appeal, but when Velma's ruse fails, there's a flicker of frustration and self-doubt: How could someone pick Edna over her? Is she no longer the young Miss Baltimore Crabs? For a brief moment, the character is damn near sympathetic. And by showing disdain for everybody in the film but her character's daughter, Pfeiffer makes it clear that she is not just motivated by bigotry, but also by a sense of allegiance to her daughter. It's the only humane motivation of Velma's to come through.

It is the consistency of Velma's nature that makes Pfeiffer's performance such a marvel. In the typically hokey, everyone-is-happy ending, the entire town of Baltimore, including Velma's daughter, welcomes integration on its airwaves -- except for Velma, who watches in horror as she is left as the only prejudicial person in town. Yes, naysayers would say the script dictates this, but there's something about Pfeiffer's last look of anger and shock that goes beyond the stock character of villainess. The last time that we see Velma von Tussle, her entire world has fallen apart as she knows it. At that particular moment in the film, we shouldn't really be caring about Velma anymore, but Pfeiffer is so forceful in the role that it's almost a shame when the camera pans back over to the kiddies.

It may not be the most naturalistic or subtle of performances, but for standing out in an admirable ensemble cast of eleven (remember that trailer?), Pfeiffer certainly deserves her due.


James Henry said...

What a great write up! Pfeiffer was so divalicious in this film that I almost chose her as well. I also love that last scene where her and Edna have that major stare down just before she breaks into "You Can't Stop the Beat"- Pfeiffer definitely wins that one.

El Gigante said...

Nice run down of Pfeif-y. Also glad you liked/were surprised my entry. Furthermore welcome fellow Brooklyn blogger.

Pokey said...

I loved Michelle in that! Also Brittainy "Amber" Snow,too.:)SC