After spending six films and 20 years overturning the principles and conventions of his middle-class Catholic upbringing, Waters made this affectionate, PG-rated tribute to growing up in early-1960s Baltimore—and promptly became a crossover sensation. A bundle of narratives centered around Tracy (Ricki Lake), a heavyset teenager who dances a mean Limbo Rock, and her fight to integrate a local TV dance show—inspired by the real-life The Buddy Deane Show, which ended its run in 1964 after a series of NAACP protests—Hairspray proudly carried over the sharp-edged, often self-incriminating irony of Waters’s earlier films. The movie’s tone, on the other hand, was warmer, gentler, and more reflective than those movies ever would have allowed. What seemed like a new beginning for Waters turned out to be a farewell for Divine, whose dual role as both Tracy’s mom and the TV station’s bigoted owner was his final screen performance.

Photos by Henny Garfunkel © New Line Cinema