Queen Latifah’s latest film a real Beauty

Beauty Shop opens today, so I might as well toss my own two bits out there. The wife and I caught it a couple nights ago and we both really enjoyed it.

I remember liking Barbershop a few years ago and being disappointed in its sequel, so I was happy to find that its spin-off was closer to the spirit of the first film than the second one. In fact, I just might like the new film best of the three; it is the least encumbered by anything we might call a “plot” (the jealous, ridiculous, rival hairdresser played by Kevin Bacon is a relief after the heavies Ice Cube had to deal with), and it benefits greatly from the charisma of Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone and others.

Indeed, charisma and chemistry are pretty much the only reason to see this movie — but in the hands of these actors, it’s a pretty compelling reason, too. I like films about characters who enjoy their friends and their places of work, and watching this film felt like hanging out with old buddies. And Queen Latifah is a real joy to behold: comfortable in her skin, proud of her big body, and gifted with charm, intelligence, and an impressive array of facial expressions. This woman’s always ready for her close-up.

I was also impressed by the way the film tweaked some of the stereotypes surrounding these characters. Mena Suvari plays a rich snobby type who seems friendly enough, and I genuinely felt bad for her when Bacon’s character makes a disparaging remark about her breast implants; but then, just at the worst moment possible, her nastier side comes out, and while there’s no particular depth to the character, the change in our emotional response to her is still a bit jarring; I, at least, felt the sting of betrayal there.

FWIW, I also liked the way the film subverted the myth of achieving one’s ultimate dream. I could say more about that, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice to say the film extols the virtues of one’s local community over the grander ambitions of international fame.

Biggest shock: Seeing Keisha Knight Pulliam, who once played the cute little Rudy on The Cosby Show, as a promiscuous, navel-flashing, gangsta-dating boy-toy.

UPDATE: Upon further consideration, I may have to take back that bit about liking this film better than Barbershop. There is nothing in this film that provides the intergenerational camaraderie or the socio-cultural banter or the politically incorrect thrill of hearing Cedric the Entertainer bark the words, “Fuck Jesse Jackson!” Barbershop was a politically conscious film about black men that riled one of the world’s most famous black men, and that kind of friction can be very entertaining, whereas Beauty Shop is a cozier film about black women that would probably earn praise from one of the world’s most famous black women (yes, I mean Oprah). But then, the difference between the two films probably reflects the difference between the two genders. And it’s probably no accident that I saw one film with a male buddy while I saw the other film with my wife. If I came away from Beauty Shop with a slightly more positive buzz, it may have had something to do with the company I was keeping that night.

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