John Travolta did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.
John Travolta plays Tracy's mother as the part originated by the drag queen Divine, and then having a man play the role continued on stage, so that's why. It seems fitting enough as a musical dance movie with Travolta's two earliest hits being the musical Grease and the dance centric Saturday Night Fever. Despite the set up, and perhaps the make up being a bit over the top Travolta actually plays the role relatively straight. The voice he uses is a fairly minor adjustment so to speak, and Travolta kinda goes about trying to make Edna a believable enough character actually. It would be easy enough to see the part played in a pretty over the top way, where the whole character could simply be seen as a joke. Travolta takes this fairly unassuming approach to the part and there really is not made much of him playing the part really. He's simply in the role and all of the mannerism and the like he employs all fairly simply though as well being effective in making Edna Turnblad feel like an actual character in the film.
Edna's story is relatively simple as she is hesitant to support Tracy's intentions to become a dance star because of her own issues with her own poor self-esteem. Travolta actually fairly moving in portraying the vulnerability of Edna as she expresses her concerns about Tracy's prospects. The film though kinda ping pongs Edna though as she'll be down quickly brought back up, then have something else to challenge her self-esteem once again. These are all fairly abrupt and to the point in the turnaround, and in typical musical fashion many are handled through a musical number. Travolta both ends admirably enough though in giving an honest to the hesitations then the right earnest passion whenever Edna gains her self respect again. In addition Travolta brings a certain sweetness to the role that works quite well as Edna becomes more supportive of her daughters efforts, particularly late in the film when she has to become particularly active to help her daughter succeed.
As a musical there are of course musical sequences, and if one where expecting the sort of energy shown by Travolta in Grease they be a bit disappointed. Travolta's delivery and even dancing in the numbers he takes part in he again stays rather modest in his performance. This is not a criticism though because Travolta very much stays with his character when he does this, and in his performances Travolta does get across the feeling of each number that Edna is a part of. Really I'd say Travolta gives a good performance here entirely by trying to realize Edna as more than a caricature, which the part very easily could have been all things considered. I suppose my only complaint, and not a real complaint so to speak, is that I suppose to love this performance by any means. I do like him here, particularly because he does succeed in making more out of the part than being a simple gimmick. It's a fine performance I'm not going to call it a great performance, but I certainly had no problems with it.