It's Baltimore in 1962, 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 star 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...
This was the first film John Waters made with a PG rating. It was released in 1988 and starred Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, Divine as her mother, Edna, Jerry Stiller as her father, Wilbur, and John Waters's usual repertory cast.
The film eventually inspired a 2002 Broadway musical, which in turn was made into a film in 2007. It starred Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad and John Travolta as Edna, among an all-star ensemble cast. NBC aired a live performance in December 2016.
- The '60s: The film takes place in the year 1962.
- Abusive Parents:
- Penny's mother and father, who are both racists and punish Penny very frequently, either for not calling them about her whereabouts, for hanging out with Tracy, or for watching the Corny Collins show. Then they find out that Penny is in love with Seaweed, and try to forcefully imprison her in a straitjacket and brainwash her into loving white boys (without her consent).
- Amber's parents are shown to be very competitive, and force Amber to do dances faster and faster even when she's exhausted, chastise her for dancing to a "colored" record, and vow to send her away to Catholic school if she fails to win.
- Adults Are Useless: Nobody intervenes when Penny is put in a straitjacket and taken prisoner by her racist parents.
- Adoption Diss: One of Amber's lies about Tracy in class, claiming that she is adopted, and her classmates react in horror.Amber Von Tussle: (reading the note) SHE'S ADOPTED!
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Penny to Seaweed as she gets dragged away by her racist parents and therapist and put into a strait-jacket.Penny Pingleton: (shouting) I LOVE YOU, SEAWEED!
Paddy Pingleton: Shut up! Get her in the car!
- Alliterative Family: Parents, Paddy and Prudy and their daughter Penny Pingleton.
- Alliterative List: As Prudy Pingleton says:So that the whole world knows that Penny Pingleton is ''permanently, positively, punished!
- Auto Erotica: Amber lies about Tracy doing this to her classmates, claiming she was caught inside a car in the nude and that she is a whore.
- Badass Boast: Lil' Inez quoting Martin Luther King Jr. saying "I have a dream!" when she is denied the chance to dance with everybody else on "The Corny Collins Show". Followed by Penny shouting to the police man, "Segregation never. Integration now!".
- Betty and Veronica: Tracy is the Betty to Amber's Veronica over Link's Archie.
- Link is the Betty to Fender's Veronica over Tracy's Archie.
- Berserk Button: Being racist is one way to set off Edna Turnblad's wrath. That, and insulting her daughter Tracy.
- Big Eater: It's implied that Edna is one, as she takes appetite suppressors, presumably to deal with her appetite and her weight. Tracy is one at the dinner scene with her and her parents, as she asks her mother to pass one of the dishes (macaroni and cheese) over to fill her plate. Although this is Justified since she is a teenager.Tracy Turnblad: Pass the macaroni and cheese. Please.
Edna Turnblad: Tracy, did you take those appetite suppressors my doctor prescribed you?
Tracy Turnbald: Mother, I'm a growing teenager, I need food!
- Big "SHUT UP!": Paddy Pingleton (Penny's racist father) yells at his daughter to shut up as she yells out to Seaweed that she loves him.
- Buxom Is Better: One female contestant for The Corny Collins Show is shown stuffing her bra to make her chest look bigger.
- The Cameo: Pia Zadora and Ric Ocasek as Beatniks - the former even starts reading Howl 1955 to the naive kids.
- Covert Pervert: While Amber is introducing "The Roach", Arvin Hodgepile is quite blatantly staring down the top of her dress.
- Creator Cameo: John Waters plays the psychiatrist that hypnotizes/tortures Penny.
- Dance of Romance: When the teens slow dance and make out at The Corny Collins Show (set to "A Town Without Pity"), and again at Motormouth Maybelle's place.
- Dance Party Ending: The film ends with everyone dancing as Tracy is crowned Miss Baltimore and cheers, "Let's dance!".
- Disproportionate Retribution: Because Penny was late and hanging out with Tracy, Prudy punishes Penny:Prudy Pingleton: From now on, you're wearing a giant "P" on your blouse every day to school so that the whole world knows that Penny Pingleton is permanently, positively, punished!
Tracy Turnblad: Penny, they put me in Special Ed just because of my hair!
- As Tracy points out to Principal Davidson, he had several of her black classmates disproportionately put in Special Ed to hold them back academically.
- Tracy gets sent to detention because of her big hair, which she complains about to Penny during a game of dodgeball with Special Ed and her old homeroom.
- Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: In the film's opening sequence, Amber is shown rigging the show's votes by taking some of the votes for the other girls and placing them on her section when no one is looking.
- Dodgeball Is Hell: Tracy gets knocked out with a dodgeball by Amber. Link asks her out after it, and Penny and Seaweed bond when they rush over to help her.
- Don't Look at Me!: Amber says this to Link when she discovers she has a pimple and throws a fit.
- Drugs Are Bad: When Tracy, Link, Penny, and Seaweed take refuge in two beatniks' apartment, they are shocked at the beatnik chick's request to smoke weed and leave (the request alone is shocking enough to make the beatnik next to her non-fatally put his head through his painting).
- Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Torture: Penny is electrocuted by the racist mad doctor her parents hired to brainwash her into liking white boys.
- Expository Hairstyle Change: Tracy dyes her hair blonde after becoming a hit on the Corny Collins Show (a Deleted Scene would have explained her hair dye change), and Edna goes from an unkempt hairdo to a new styled beehive hairdo while shopping with Tracy as a means to boost her self-confidence.
- Forceful Kiss: Penny dances with a white boy at the Corny Collins Show and he smothers her with kisses, much to Penny's discomfort.
- Freak Out: The scene where Prudy tries to follow Tracy, Link and Penny is a laugh riot because she freaks out once she realizes she's in the Black community's part of the city. Hilarity Ensues. She thinks they're all out to get her and freaks out after finding a police officer, only to find out he's Black too!
- Gross-Up Close-Up: Amber's gross large pimple on her chin, shortly before her mother pops it.
- Gym Class Hell: Tracy and the rest of the Special Ed classmates are laughed at by Amber, her classmates, and a sadist teacher simply for being Special Ed. This is followed by a game of dodgeball, which naturally Special Ed loses handily.
- Happy Dance: Tracy does a victory dance to "The Bug" as she is freed from jail with a pardon and goes to celebrate her win of the auto show contest.
- Henpecked Husband: Henpecked boyfriend in this case. Link gets pushed around and mistreated a lot by his girlfriend Amber.
- Hypocritical Humor: Most of the dancers and townspeople are racist, yet they have no problem dancing to "Shake a Tail Feather" by The Five Du-Tones. Amber's parents call her out on this.note
- I Have No Son!: Paddy screams this as Penny escapes her parents' captivity with Seaweed.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: After the commotion at the Corny Collins Show because of a little black girl being rejected to come on the show and dance, Tracy being pursued by the cops, and Corny and Tammy being threatened to get fired for protesting against segregation, Corny and Tammy take a swig from a bottle of whiskey to deal with the stress.
- Interrupted Intimacy:
- In the opening scene, two dancers interrupt a makeout session to add a little more hairspray to each other's hair.
- Amber makes out with Link in her car, but stops it because she notices a pimple on her chin and throws a fit.
- Tracy, Link, Penny, and Seaweed are making out at a party of Motormouth Maybelle's when Tracy's worried parents and Penny's parents show up looking for them.
- 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.
- Irony: Despite being a mostly whites-only establishment, the dancers on the Corny Collins Show enjoy a "colored" record, namely "Shake a Tail Feather" by The Five Du-Tones.
- Kick the Dog: Amber calls Tracy a "whore" during the couples dances, hurting Tracy's feelings.
- Amber claiming to everyone on the news that Tracy is "a human roach nest" covered in roaches while Tracy is in prison and watching the TV.
- Large Ham: Divine as Hodgepile, but markedly not as Edna, who is a Deadpan Snarker. Zadora also hams it up.
- Letting Her Hair Down: Tracy straightens her hair with a clothing iron as a surprise for her boyfriend Link.
- Love at First Sight: After Tracy gets hit hard in the head with a dodgeball, Link checks on her to see if she's alright and asks her if she wants to go steady with him.
- Love Triangle: Tracy/Link/Amber.
- Briefly, Fender/Tracy/Link.
- Mama Bear: Edna starts beating Velma Von Tussle when she makes a racist remark about her daughter Tracy (as well as saying she cheated on her husband.)Velma Von Tussle: Can I ask you a personal question? Is your daughter a mulatto?
Edna Turnblad: Why, you! (starts hitting her)
- The Misophonic: Edna hates the loud music blasting on The Corny Collins Show that Tracy and Penny are dancing to.Edna Turnblad: Could you turn that racket down?! I'm trying to iron in here!
- Musicalis Interruptus: When Tracy, Link, Penny, and Seaweed are dancing "the dirty boogie" at Motormouth Maybelle's, Penny's mother bursts in, causing the music to stop with a record needle scratch heard.
- Necktie Leash: Amber is seen dragging Link by his tie during a dance in the opening sequence.
- Rescue Romance: Seaweed breaking Penny out of her parents' house.
- Running Gag: 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 Penny and Tracy 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.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
- Tracy, Link, Penny, and Seaweed run away when the cops show up to arrest them for protesting against segregation.
- When Tracy and Penny's parents show up looking for them, Tracy, Link, Penny, and Seaweed go looking for a place to hide.
- When Penny's parents show up with a doctor to kidnap and brainwash Penny, Seaweed runs away when he sees her dad.
- Many people's reactions in the commotion going on at Tilted Acres, especially when someone throws a firecracker into the crowd.
- Shaking the Rump: Tracy, Penny and the dancers on The Corny Collins Show do this to the song "Shake A Tail Feather" by The Five Du-Tones. Provides the trope's page quote.
- Edna Turnblad says that "The times, they are a-changin'. Something's blowin' in the wind." Both lines are quotes from Bob Dylan songs.
- The book Beatnik Chick (Pia Zadora) starts to read from is Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl 1955'.
- The von Tussles are quoting George Wallace (who was not yet Alabama's Governor when the film is set) when they say, "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"
- Smooch of Victory: Corny plants a big kiss on his co-worker Tammy after successfully having the Corny Collins Show integrated.
- Spiteful Spit: Tracy spits in a woman's face, after the woman bludgeoned her boyfriend Link Larkin in the knees with her purse.
- Starmaking Role: Not that John Waters and Divine were unknowns in 1988, but this was their first truly mainstream film. Divine was even tapped to play Peg Bundy's parents on Married...With Children, but sadly died before they could shoot his scenes. This is why later episodes have Peg's mother heard and not seen, other than the fact that she's inhumanly obese.
- Take That!:Teacher: Where do you go after special ed?
- Traumatic Haircut: Velma loses all the top of her big hair when the bomb detonates prematurely.
- Villainous Breakdown: Franklin and Velma Von Tussle lose it when Tracy wins instead of Amber.Franklin and Velma Von Tussle: (in unison, angrily) Amber, we're going home right now!
Amber Von Tussle: No, Mommy! NO!!!
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: After going on a carnival ride, Amber vomits a little onto the carnival ride she is inside of.
- Waxing Lyrical:
- Wrote a Good Fake Story: Tracy and Penny lie to their parents, claiming that they're going to the library to study when in actuality they're heading to the Corny Collins Show.Tracy: Can I please be excused to go to the library to study?