I believe that more than one critic has called this movie the “happiest film” of the summer, or the happiest in a long while, and I can’t disagree with them. I don’t know how Nikki Blonsky (who plays the main character, Tracy Turnblad) manages to keep smiling that widely and genuinely for basically 2 hours straight, but somehow she pulls it off with sincerity.
The rest of the cast also seems to be having just a grand ol’ time, dancing around without reserve and throwing themselves into their exaggerated characters: the ruthless and evil pageant queen (Michelle Pfeiffer), the kooky eccentric (Christopher Walken, naturally), or the rigidly religious mother who won’t let her daughter do anything (Allison Janney). And of course, the overweight and shy, but just bursting to come out of her shell, mom played with obvious enjoyment by John Travolta.
Although the movie does deal with many serious issues, such as race, faith and weight discrimination, it almost never loses its constant bounce and cheeriness. To be honest, I found myself slightly overwhelmed by all the perkiness, to the point where, for me at least, it could be exhausting at times. Even when the characters are unhappy, they seem like they’re just bursting to sing a sad, peppy song about it.
There is some dispute regarding its glossy portrayal of the civil rights movement, but as just a superficial movie musical, it entertains and is a good antidote to a stormy summer day. The acting is solid overall, if a bit awkward at times, and as always, James Marsden, although a minor, peripheral character, manages to put out one of the best performances (and this is a totally unbiased opinion, not at all based on my minor crush on him).
He seems to have found his niche portraying good-hearted, standup guys in blockbusters, especially the unfortunate guys condemned to be the third wheel of classic romances (see: Cyclops in the X-Men movies, the rich guy who tries to come between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, and “that other guy” who comes between Lois Lane and Superman in Superman Returns).