Sunday, October 25, 2009

A painful, insightful and ultimately entertaining look at "Good Hair"

C'mon, you know we've all done it. You walk by a woman - most likely a black woman - with an elaborate hairdo and say (hopefully not out loud!) "how in the world did she do that?"

Well, Chris Rock provides a few answers and a lot of laughs in the documentary "Good Hair" as he asks varieties on that question in hair salons around the country, at the world's biggest black hair show in Atlanta and even in India - and I can tell you from this gringo's perspective that after watching his movie it's hard to say which locale is the most exotic.

I was a little hesitant to see this this movie, not because of the subject matter - which has always kind of fascinated me - but because I don't always find Chris Rock to be all that funny. I just didn't think I could bear two hours of him ridiculing and berating these women who often - we find out - spend thousands of dollars on their hair, but he tries a new tack here, empathy.

He says at the outset that the idea for the movie came at least in part from his very young daughter asking, "Daddy, why don't I have good hair?" The movie is indeed often at its best as he talks with black women in hair salons and black men in barbershops because - perhaps with his daughter in mind - Rock manages to make this much more of a free-flowing conversation than a series of uncomfortable interrogations.

Sprinkled in with these visits are interviews with assorted celebrities who have achieved their fame at least partly by having "Good Hair," both women and men. Ice-T is very funny as he talks about wearing curlers to school, and the stunning Nia Long is the most candid as she talks about the lengths she goes to to both acquire and protect her 'do. I guarantee you'll just squirm in your seat, however, after you hear all about the painful weave process and then see a game Raven Symone showing off her tremendous head of fake hair. (As an aside, as a young kid growing up near Baltimore, I always thought self-promoting Charm City business man Mr. Ray invented the hair weave.)

Rock and director Jeff Stilson wisely frame their movie with the outlandish Battle Royale that closes out the Bronner Brothers International Hair Show each year in Atlanta. A lot of my favorite documentaries feature some kind of competition to build in suspense, and you'll definitely pick a favorite and probably hoot out loud while watching the four star stylists who compete here (mine was Freddie J, whose elaborate production was probably doomed from the start but still the most fun to watch.)

"Good Hair" takes a brief but very wrong turn as Rock gets into the touchy subject of why so few black people - and so many Asians - have made so much money off of this billion-dollar industry. It's a worthy question to ask, but Rock adds absolutely nothing to the flick when he sinks down to the "gotcha" style of documentary making and ambushes an Asian hair store owner, trying to get him to buy some "black hair." It's just the kind of stunt that Michael Moore leans on at his worst, and it adds nothing at all to "Good Hair."

That's only a minor beef, however, about a movie that's almost as insightful as it is downright entertaining. See this one while you can, since it will probably only get a few more weeks in theaters. And, apropos of nothing except for the fact that i like it so much, I'll leave you today with a video of the queen of "Good Hair" and great voice, Etta James, singing what is still probably my favorite song, "I'd Rather Go Blind." Peace out.


Jake Mabe said...

Thanks for sharing the Etta James song. Somewhere in my CD collection, I have a copy of Clarence Carter singing it. Great song. Had never heard the great Etta sing it. Good stuff, indeed.

Reel Fanatic said...

I have a best of Clarence Carter that has his version of it, Jake, but as good as that is, no one does it as good as Etta ... Go to YouTube and listen to her original version from back in the day, and I guarantee it will blow you away .. and Beyonce does a great version of it on the "Cadillac Records" soundtrack (as Etta) too

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