Film: Hairspray

"Mama, welcome to the '60s!"
Tracy Turnblad

It's 1962 Baltimore and Tracy Turnblad is a huge fan of The Corny Collins Show, which is similar to American Bandstand. She also is a fan of big hairstyles which require hairspray to stay in place - a trend the adults disapprove of. When one of the old dancers has to leave because of pregnancy, an audition is held for a new female dancer, and Tracy gets the spot because of her talent and her exuberant personality. This leads to a chain of events that will change Baltimore forever...

1. The first film John Waters made that got PG. It was released in 1988 and starred Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, Divine as her mother, and John Waters's usual repertory cast.

2. The film eventually inspired a 2002 Broadway musical. The music was changed for this production. The original film was for the most part not a musical per se, just full of music, and its songs were all Dance Sensation songs of one sort or another. The musical had songs tell the story more directly. The storyline is similar to the original, but some details and some emphases were adjusted (for example, most references to Velma Von Tussle in the tropes below are from the Broadway musical or second film, as her role was greatly expanded from the original). It won eight Tony Awards, and introduced the world to Marissa Jaret Winokur (who previously was more known as the fast-food girl with Kevin Spacey in American Beauty).

3. The musical was successful enough that it itself was made into a film in 2007. It starred Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad and John Travolta as her mom, among an all-star ensemble cast.

Not to be confused with Hair.


  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Really, Accent on the Wrong Word, but it's just as annoying.
    "You can try to stop the paradise we're dreaming of"
  • Acrofatic: Tracy. Edna, too—she does a fair amount of fleet-footed dancing in the 2007 version. While John Travolta isn't overweight, he's wearing a lot of foam rubber padding, so his dancing is doubly impressive.
  • Acting for Two: Divine played both Edna and Arvin Hodgepile in the 1988 film.
  • Aerosol Flamethrower: Link breaks Tracy out of prison with this method in the stage show
  • Alliterative Name: loads: Tracy Turnblad, Penny and Prudy Pingleton, Velma Von Tussle, Corny Collins, Link Larkin, Motormouth Maybelle, Seaweed J. Stubbs.
  • Alpha Bitch: Amber Von Tussle.
  • American Accents: If you've ever wondered what a Baltimore accent sounds like, just watch either film. Edna has an extremely strong one.
    • In fact, several critics wondered why John Travolta was doing such a weird voice when his accent was fairly authentic.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Inez winning Miss Teenage Hairspray This only happens in the musical movie, however.
  • Beehive Hairdo: And how!
  • Beta Couple: Penny and Seaweed.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Tracy is this in spades. Also her mother Edna and Motormouth Maybelle.
  • Big Fun: Tracy's a rare female example.
  • Big Eater: Tracy, Maybelle, and Edna all fit this trope to a degree, although it's only portrayed in an unrealistically over-the-top manner in Edna's case.
  • Billing Displacement: It was advertised starring John Travolta (in drag!). Nikki Blonsky gets an "And introducing" after the long list of all the other celebrities "starring" in the movie.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Mentioned in the song "(It's) Hairspray."
  • Blondes Are Evil: Velma. Amber is arrogant, but not evil.
  • Brainless Beauty: Link Larkin is a light, male version
  • Broken Smile: Velma Von Tussle displays a perfect example when the show is finally integrated.
    • In the play anyway. In the second movie, she stays pissy throughout, probably due to losing her job.
  • But Not Too Black: Nicely averted, since following the trope would have destroyed the point.
    • A lot of people objected to Queen Latifah's casting in the film musical because of this, claiming that she's too light for the role, but she's the most famous plus-sized black actress in Hollywood. And since her skintone is middle-ground, anyone claiming she's too fair is just looking for reasons to complain.
  • California Doubling: Many of the Baltimore scenes were shot in Toronto.
  • The Cameo: The 2007 film features several. John Waters, director of the 1988 film, appears as a flasher, and director Adam Shankman, composer/lyricist Mark Shaiman, co-composer/lyricist Scott Wittman and Ricki Lake (Tracy from the 1988 film) all play talent agents. The associate choreographers also make appearances.
    • Not to mention, in the 1988 film, John Waters plays the psychiatrist that hypnotizes/tortures Penny.
    • Also in the movie musical, Jerry Stiller, who played Wilbur Turnblad in the original movie, played Mr. Pinky, who ran a plus-sized boutique and wanted Tracy to do commercials for him when she became a hit on the Corny Collins show.
    • The 1988 film also has Pia Zadora and Ric Ocasek as Beatniks - the former even starts reading Howl to the naive kids.
  • Casting Gag: In the 2007 film, Jerry Stiller plays fashion store owner Mr Pinky. Stiller played Wilbur Turnblad in the original 1988 film. Several other actors from the original and the director appear as well, see "The Cameo".
    • Brittany Snow in the 2007 version essentially fulfilled the same role as Tracy in her show American Dreams except she actually danced on American Bandstand.
      • Cue some of her other work, where she is the dead opposite of an Alpha Bitch.
    • Marissa Jaret Winokur, Tracy of the musical, and Allison Janney, Mrs Pingleton of the 2007 film, were both in American Beauty - but Janney with the larger part.
  • The Cast Showoff: Several members of the cast were picked either because their musical talents were largely unknown to the general public (Marsden, Walken, Bynes) or had simply been forgotten about in recent years (Travolta, Pfeiffer)
  • Cavalier Competitor: Amber after losing; quickly in the 2007 film, gradually as "You Can't Stop The Beat" goes on in the musical. Also counts as Graceful Loser.
  • Chekhov's Gun : The large, hollow hairspray canister in the foreground while Corny and Velma are arguing about putting Tracy on the show.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Two examples from the 2007 film that are related to each other:
    • When Velma switches the Miss Teenage Hairspray votes at the end of the movie, Edna, in disguise, is the only one to see her do it; later, it's Edna who orchestrates the Engineered Public Confession described below.
    • Early in the movie, Velma harasses a cameraman for not giving Amber enough screen time during the Corny Collins Show. Guess who helps Edna and Wilbur expose Velma's cheating by letting them use his camera?
  • Civil Rights Movement: Maybelle and the black dancers' plight.
  • Climactic Music: "You Can't Stop the Beat", the climactic number that coincides with the climactic dance showdown.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Penny, somewhat. Tracy can come off as this too.
  • Conspicuous CG: Many of the buildings in the opening shot are CGI recreations, and it's not hard to tell that.
  • Continuity Nod: The 2007 film makes several references to scenes from the 1988 movie that don't happen in the new version. During one song montage, Tracy is knocked in the head during dodge ball. One of the nasty rumors Amber tries to start is about Tracy getting put into Special Ed.
  • Costume Porn
  • Creator Cameo: John Waters as "...the flasher who lives next door."
  • Crosscast Role: Edna is always played by a man.
  • Curtain Clothing: An extremely subtle one: In the film, the dress Penney wears during "You Can't Stop The Beat" is made from the curtains in her room (see "Shout Out" below).
  • Cut Song: "The New Girl in Town" was cut from the stage musical, but put into the 2007 film. Some songs from the stage version were cut from the film, too.
  • Dark Horse Victory: In the 2007 film, Little Inez's victory in the Miss Teenage Hairspray contest.
  • Dark Reprise: In the Broadway musical, Tracy sings a reprise of "Good Morning Baltimore" after she finds out she won't be granted any bail.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Corny, big time.
    • Penny has her moments as well:
      Maybelle(after seeing that Penny and Seaweed were in love): So this is love. Well, love is a gift, but a lot of people don't remember that. So, you two better brace yourselves for a whole lotta ugly comin' at you from a neverending parade of stupid.
      Penny: So, you met my mom.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance : Many tongue in cheek examples in the 2007 film, particularly during "Welcome to the Sixties." Two pregnant women smoking and drinking martinis, a carful of children standing up on the seats, and so on. Also, the circular pins worn by a couple of the girls, that indicated a girl was a virgin. Brenda was wearing one in the "Just nine months" scene, made even more ironic by the possibility that Corny is the father (look closely, you'll see them arguing in a Funny Background Event).
  • Demoted to Extra: Poor Link doesn't get to shine in the 2007 film as much as he did in the stage show.
  • Dirty Cop: The lead police officer who's working for Velma in the 2007 film.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The cameraman who lets the Turnblads use his camera for Velma's Engineered Public Confession in the 2007 film is the same one that she had belittled and threatened in the beginning of the movie.
  • Engineered Public Confession: In the 2007 film, Velma admits to cheating to ensure her daughter the crown, to find out a camera has been on her the whole time.
  • Fat and Skinny: Tracy and Penny are a gender inversion.
  • Food Porn: "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful" is this trope in song form. Then we see Maybelle's soul food spread in the movie...
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Tracy is Sanguine, Penny is Leukine, Link is Choleric, Amber is Melancholic, and Seaweed is Phlegmatic.
  • Freudian Slip: Velma von Tussle: "We've got to lead kids in the white direction...I mean...you know what I mean."
  • Genki Girl: Tracy.
  • Genre Savvy: In the stage musical, Velma realizes that someone is hiding in the giant hairspray can and she orders her guards to prevent anyone from touching it. It turns out that she is Wrong Genre Savvy because Edna is in the can and Tracy just comes in through the front door while the guards are distracted by guarding the can. It helps that the guards are really Motormouth Maybelle and many of the other black cast members in disguise.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Penny.
  • Good Parents: Edna and Wilbur Turnblad to Tracy.
  • Graceful Loser: In the second movie, Amber was surprisingly mature about her defeat, indicating Character Development.
    • She and her mother both become graceful losers in the stage show as well, after much sulking, they give in and realize that they "can't stop the beat". See Heel-Face Turn below.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: "(You're) Timeless to Me", especially on Broadway where the actors playing Edna and Wilbur seemed to be in a contest over who will corpse first.
  • Happily Married: Edna and Wilbur
  • Heel-Face Turn: Amber and Velma in the musical; just Amber seems to get one in the film (walking out on her mother and getting along with a black dancer), even after the Humiliation Conga. Also, the rest of the Corney Collins Show council in all versions.
  • Henpecked Boyfriend: Link is henpecked by his girlfriend Amber.
  • The Hero Dies: Definitely doesn't happen in the musical or the movie, but the final lines of the song "New Girl in Town" imply that the new girl mentioned in the lyrics (Tracy?) was ran over by a moving van and died:
    Hey, look out for that moving van
    Look out, look out, look out, look out!
    She was the new girl in... to-oo-own!
  • Historical In-Joke: When Penny rushes to show the Turnblads Tracy's TV debut, Edna misunderstands and thinks she's trying to show them the footage of John Glenn's space trip. She chastises her, saying "Oh, I've seen it! It's all some studio out in Hollywood. Do they really expect me to believe he's up there?"
    • In the stage version, it's "Oh no, don't tell me Khrushchev has his shoes off again!"
  • Hot Guy, Average Wife
  • Humiliation Conga: In the 2007 movie, Amber has Tracy steal her thunder and her boyfriend, gets hoisted above the set, tears her dress and sprains her ankle getting down, and loses her crown to a child on live TV. And then she's surprisingly good natured about it in the end, possibly making this a subversion. Played straight with Velma, though, whose humiliation is more thorough and not taken well.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One:
    Link Larkin: I shoulda been there, beside her. I can't sleep. I can't eat...
    Edna Turnblad: You can't eat? Well, come on in and worry with us. I'll make you some pork.
    • Or, in the stage version,
    Link: I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, I couldn't even concentrate!
    Tracy: You couldn't eat?
  • "I Want" Song: "Good Morning Baltimore" and "I Can Hear The Bells".
  • Implausible Deniability: Edna refuses to believe that First Lady Jackie Kennedy's hairstyle has anything to do with hairspray.
    "I believe it is just naturally stiff."
  • Improbable Hairstyle
  • Indy Ploy: Corny Collins isn't responsible for any of the events of the movie, but damned if he isn't ready to use them to his advantage. In the movie, he knows Inez Stubb's name and the very specific clause to let her win, implying that he's been waiting and preparing for any kind of situation for him to push his agenda.
  • Informed Ability: Inez's dancing in the 2007 movie. She's not appreciably better than the rest of the talented cast, yet we're supposed to believe that she alone was impressive enough to win Miss Teen Hairspray after just one (short) dance. It's implied she won because she was the only black contestant (ever) and the whole community voted for her, even though there'd still be alot of racism in the community, making this very improbable.
    • Inez's age could may have been a factor. She can hold her own with kids significantly older than her. Plus, she is adorable and people like kids.
    • The implication was likely that the entire black or otherwise POC community, which is very large in Baltimore, voted for her.
    • Link also brought her on stage, bringing his popularity in to help her as well.
  • Insistent Terminology: Divine stated she was not in drag in the film, because no drag queen would ever let herself be as frumpy as Edna is in the film.
  • Jerkass: Velma Von Tussle in the musical and even more so in it's film adaptation (where she's less Laughably Evil), and Amber Von Tussle for a good while due to emulating her mother.
    • The whole Von Tussle family takes this to ridiculously extreme levels in the original 1988 film. Tracy and (especially) Edna have their moments there too, in stark contrast to the kind people they are in the musical and 2007 film.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Corny Collins is very smarmy and egotistical ("The only thing better than Hairspray...that's me!), but his heart is shown to be in the right place.
  • Kick the Dog: Almost every scene Velma appears in, though racism lends itself easily to this trope.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Velma Von Tussle get struck by this at the end of the 2007 movie.
  • Lean and Mean: "I never drank one chocolate malt / No desserts for Miss Baltimore Crabs..."
  • The Makeover: Tracy and Edna get one in "Welcome to the Sixties"; Tracy gets another when she crashes the beauty contest.
    • Penny gets one in the finale as well, and Edna comes out of the Hairspray Can in the musical with clothing she made herself.
  • Mighty Whitey: in the 2007 film, the fact that Tracy, a white high school girl obsessed with dancing who has no real understanding of the sociopolitical scene or the importance of integration - she spends all day at school sleeping and has no knowledge of American history either - comes up with the idea to do a "march" to save the 'Negro Day' TV show while all the black people who have been fighting and striving to make a difference just stand around accepting being forced out from TV. A little white girl with limited social awareness who adopts 'Negro dancing' and leads them to save their show..
  • Morning Routine: The 2007 movie starts with one. The musical too, but in less detail.
  • Nice Girl: Tracy, of course. Plus Penny too.
  • Nice Guy: Link.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When Tracy participates at the march and hits a cop on the head with her sign and runs away, it gives Velma a good opportunity to stop Tracy from participating in the pageant by having the same police guard the entrance, making Tracy and the others devise a plan to sneak into the pageant. If Tracy had been bailed out along with Maybelle, she wouldn't have had to hide from the cops and sneak into the pageant!
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: After Amber loses the Miss Teenage Hairspray Competition, Velma then admits to Amber that she rigged the votes. Edna then informs Velma that her confession was broadcasted on camera, which causes Velma to lose her job.
    • Playing right into Tracy and friends' plans, Velma forces all the security guards outside despite ample security outside in response to the bait (Wilbur dressed as Tracy), getting them locked out. The guards then beat down the door with a hairspray battering ram with Tracy inside. Once Velma realizes what they've done, they all rush to it, only for all of them to get locked out once again.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Dynamites (The Supremes), Corny Collins (Dick Clark)
    • Actually, Corny Collins was explicitly based on Buddy Deane.
  • Not So Different: Tracy, Penny, and Amber all have radically different personalities, but are the same when it comes to their mother issues, as shown in the "Mama, I'm a big girl now" number.
  • One Head Taller: Inverted with Penny and Seaweed. She is noticeably taller than him.
    • Only in the 2007 movie. In the 1988 movie, Penny is of average height while Seaweed is very tall indeed.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: In the 2007 version, Penny's mother, Prudy, forbids Penny from watching the Corny Collins Show, yet Prudy watches the show herself.
  • The Plan: How the main characters get Tracy into the Miss Teenage Hairspray pageant in the end of the stage musical and newer movie.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Velma Von Tussle is quite blatantly racist in the second movie, where she seems to revel in her own misdeeds. In the first film, she's more of a Lawful Selfish Stage Mom who's willing to court segregationist attitudes to look respectable.
  • Poor Communication Kills: When Link doesn't want to join in the march for fear of ruining his career.
    Link: I'm sorry, Trace. I just think that this adventure's...a little too big or me.
    Tracy: *gasps and backs away with a hurt look*
    Link: ...oh, God. Nonono, that's not what I-
    Tracy: I-I get it, Link. It's your shot.
    Link: No, Trace! That's not what I-
    Tracy: Bye.
  • Popular Is Dumb: The openly embraced creed of the Nicest Kids in Town:
    Who cares about sleep, when you can snooze in school?
    You'll never get to college but you sure look cool!
    Don't need a cap or a gown
    When you're the Nicest Kids in Town!
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Corny Collins, the dance show host, who is very open to bending the rules and doing away with segregation.
  • Rose Tinted Narrative
  • Running Gag: In the first film, the kids run into a beatnik couple, and the woman says she uses a straightening iron to get her hair so silky. This leads to a couple scenes where the girls are using a clothing iron to straighten their hair complete with laying their heads on an ironing boardnote .
    • This is given a subtle shout-out in the second movie at the end, where Tracy and Penny have straightened their hair for the big show as if out of protest.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Motormouth Maybelle, the Dynamites
  • Satellite Love Interest: Link in the original 1988 film, and to a lesser extent in the 2007 film. Delibarately subverted in the stage musical, where his Character Development is about stopping being a shallow tool and doing things for himself.
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Link and Tracy, Seaweed and Penny.
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: In the '07 film, Alpha Bitch Velma tries to seduce Wilbur simply so she can cause strife between Wilbur and his wife. Wilbur is so faithful to his wife that he seems completely oblivious to her advances, but Velma's plan works anyway because she just throws herself at Wilbur as his wife comes in the door to "catch" them in the "act".
  • Shout-Out: For the 2007 film, director Adam Shankman included several homages to and winks at the films that were his inspiration. The opening shot is a mix of the opening shots for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Penny's dress at the end of the film is made from her curtains, just like the Von Trapp childrens' play clothes that Maria makes out of old curtains in The Sound of Music. Several of Tracy's scenes - such as her ride atop the garbage truck, and her post-makeover hairstyle in "Welcome to the Sixties" - are taken from the Barbra Streissand film version of Funny Girl. Link singing to Tracy's photograph, which sings back, is directly inspired from The Broadway Melody of 1938, in which Judy Garland sings to a photo of Clark Gable.
    • The stage musical contains a few references to Gypsy. In the beginning, these references were quite timely, as Hairspray premiered on Broadway in the same season as a revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters. By the time Hairspray closed, these references would again become timely, as a new revival starring Patti LuPone had just started its run.
  • Sidekick Song: "Run and Tell That" and "Big, Blonde, and Beautiful"
    • Depending on whether or not you think of Wilbur and Edna as leads, "Timeless To Me", as well.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: A gender inverted version with Link and Tracy.
    • Similarly inverted with Seaweed and Penny
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Amber, at first and Velma.
  • Smarmy Host: Corny is a borderline example.
  • Smug Snake: Velma in the 2007 film.
  • Starmaking Role: Not that John Waters and Glenn Harris Milstead were unknowns in 1988, but this was their first truly mainstream film. Milstead was even to have played Peg Bundy's parents on Married...With Children, but sadly died before they could shoot his scenes (which is why later episodes have Peg's mother heard and not seen, other than the fact that she's inhumanly obese).
  • Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism: Dancer Brenda must take time off from Corny's show, thus prompting the audition. How long will she be gone? "Just nine months..."
  • Take That:
    Tracy: Where do you go after special ed?
    Everybody: Congress!
  • Teen Pregnancy: The reason The Corny Collins Show needs a new dancer in the first place.
    Corny: And speaking of the unexpected, our own fun-loving, freewheeling Brenda will be taking a leave of absence from the show. How long will you be gone, Brenda?
    Brenda: (giant smile unwavering) Just nine months.
    Corny: ...So, it seems we have an opening for a girl who's just as fun-loving, but maybe not quite as freewheeling.
  • The Theme Park Version: Of The Sixties, particularly the anti-segregation movement. Doesn't mean the movie's bad, though.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Noreen and Doreen (who only appear in the 2007 movie)
  • They've Come So Far Song: "I Know Where I've Been," which is about the continuing fight against prejudice as much as it is about the progress of the characters and plot.
    • And another song called "Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)" was written for the 2007 film adaptation. However, unlike "I Know Where I've Been," it lacks the narrative significance typically associated with this trope, as it is played over the credits rather than as part of the film.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Tracy and Edna could be pretty surly and offputting on several occasions in the original film (Edna in particular due to being played by Divine, the inspiration for Ursula, and it shows), but are very nice people in the musical.
  • Ugly Hero, Good-Looking Villain: The Turnblads and the Von Tussles, except that Tracey's not exactly ugly.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Velma hides the official votes when rigging the pagent in the 2007 film.
  • Villain Song: In addition to Velma's "Miss Baltimore Crabs" above, Amber gets "Cooties" or "New Girl in Town". The other members of the Corny Collins Show council contribute to all of these, as well.
  • Weight Woe: Edna has to work through this.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Seaweed and Penny.
    • Implied with Amber at the end of the film. She can be seen making eyes at one of the black dancers and then, after walking away from her mother, chit chatting coyly with him in the finale.
    • Implied nothing. Check the left side of the second-to-last shot of the movie. Amber can actually be seen jumping into his arms on the dance floor!
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Velma Von Tussle, who never lets anyone forget that she was once Miss Baltimore Crabs.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Corny? Link?? Seaweed???
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Velma pulls this when she's trying to hit on Wilbur and Edna walks in.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: According to the script, the show begins in "early June" on a Monday and ends on June 6th, 1962. Schools did not run into June in 1962, especially in Baltimore, because there was no air conditioning and it was oppressively hot and humid.