Not too long ago I decided to revisit the first two Barbershop films in anticipation of the newly released third movie in the series, and though I’ve yet to actually get around to watching that one, I decided to go ahead and give a look at the Queen Latifah-starring spin off Beauty Shop from 2005.
The female-driven showcase finds Latifah’s Gina Norris, who previously had a beauty shop next to Ice Cube’s Cedric Palmer’s barber shop in Chicago newly moved to Atlanta where she is working for famous stylist Jorge (camped up to the hilt by Kevin Bacon) in order to put her daughter through music school. However after one too many instances of disrespect by her boss, she rashly quits her job and decides to follow her dream and open a shop of her own. Trial and tribulation of course follow, but as we all know from the start it will, by the end of the film, everything gets eventually sorted, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and the good girls win the day.
Yeah, I know, that’s a pretty short synopsis, but that’s because it’s not so much the plot that matters in these films, but the interplay between the characters and the sheer fun of just enjoying what is basically a low key comedy that never loses its lightness and fortunately never delves too much into the maudlin, which is always a danger with a film like this.
Latifah definitely shines in this role, but Beauty Shop is also a great ensemble movie which manages, as the best do, to give each of its diverse characters just enough time and attention to bring their own to roles that could very well simply be stereotypes as opposed to fully-fleshed people. Sure, sometimes it feels like it’s almost stretching too far both to be inclusive and to have “something to say”, but it never reaches the point of feeling overstuffed or preachy (the hole into which, unfortunately, the second Barbershop movie fell a bit too often) . It also manages to deal with a wide range of topics, from the trials of being a black female entrepreneur to integration of the shop (both among the stylists and the clientele) to simply life on the streets and in an urban neighborhood without ever forgetting that first and foremost it is supposed to be a comedy.
One other thing that I definitely want to point out about Beauty Shop. Unlike so many of today’s comedies which rely on curse words and shock value to make them seem funny when they actually are simply generating uncomfortable laughs, Beauty Shop is rated PG-13, and it very rarely even feels like it’s coming close to crossing the line of that rating. Yes, there is one instance of a character using the “s-word” but it works in context. There is also a line early in the movie where Gina outlaws the use of “bitches and ho’s” in the shop because she is trying to create a comfortable place for her customers to come to, a move which I personally appreciated because I felt that it helped show respect for the audience and for the relationship between the characters. Yes, I recognize that it’s part of the common parlance in certain circles, and that’s fine, and I know that I run the risk of sounding like the stuffy old white guy here, but that’s just something that has always made me feel uncomfortable, and something that would turn this from a movie I’d feel very comfortable watching with my daughter to one that would make me question it just a bit.
Along the same line, and perhaps even more to the point, I will warn those who are overly sensitive that there is just enough use of “the n-word” that it could make some people uncomfortable, but it is used in a discussion of when and where and by whom it is appropriate, and that is something that I actually appreciated in this context, since it has long been my feeling that there is no way that people can actually have a dialogue about such things if the actual topic being discussed is considered out of bounds. And again, even in this, Beauty Shop never loses the light touch and never forgets that its main goal is to give the audience laughs.
So is Beauty Shop that kind of movie that is going to change you life? No, but it doesn’t mean to be. What it is is a good, light and light-hearted movie that is going to help you pass a couple of hours in a fun way. And that’s all it needs to be. So go ahead, find a chair, and let Gina and her crew take care of you. You’ll be glad you did.