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Good Hair (DVD Review)

15 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 2/16/10
Box Office $4.2 million
$27.98 DVD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some language including sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity.
Stars Chris Rock.

Chris Rock is the father of young daughters, so you figure that he already begins each day in a state of bewilderment.

But this is just the beginning once the comic and former Oscar host tries to do for African-American cosmetology what Bill Maher did for God in Religulous — embarking on an odyssey to educate himself on the big-business aspect of hair and all the sub-categories this entails. In other words, relaxers, styling competitions, bartered hair (one salesman walks around with his stash in a suitcase) and, mother of mercy, weaves. His discovery process began, Rock explains, when his 5-year-old asked a question about the subject.

The relaxers (or straighteners) contain chemicals that can severely burn skin, cause blindness and (in the kind of demonstration science teachers have always dined out on) do quite a corrosive number on a soft drink can. But even children get “relaxed,” and so have a couple surprise celebrities Rock interviews: Maya Angelou (good to see her so obviously on Rock’s wavelength) and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who first straightened his hair at the suggestion of James Brown when they both visited then-president Ronald Reagan to lobby for Martin Luther King’s birthday becoming a national holiday. Now there’s an image.

Rock himself tries to sell some natural black hair to a merchant but discovers that the market focuses its follicle trade in a different direction (hair from Indian women is much preferred). He also learns that while tons of money is being made off the industry, not a whole lot of it is by black people.

The documentary concludes with the competitive Bronner Brothers International Hair Show in Atlanta, a gala that suggests WWE-caliber showmanship combined with the second half of Christopher Guest’s Best in Show. It falls a little flat because Hair’s penultimate segment is the one that truly puts the movie over — and is, by itself, a classic.

This is the discussion of weaves, which can easily cost a thousand dollars (sometimes to the detriment of having food on the table). Actress Nia Long is one of many African-American interviewees who concede that weaved hair is not for touching and that — as she says — taking a shower with a man can be a more intimate or privileged encounter than having sex.

The lesson for men: when it comes to touching during the act of love, it is better to stick to breasts. One guy in this section’s uproarious barbershop scene — where everyone in the shop seems to be a natural wag or cut-up — notes that the last time he touched a black woman’s hair was shortly before the 1987 stock market crash.

Rock and director/longtime collaborator Jeff Stilson even find a way to inject Ice-T into the proceedings. It’s a surprise to see him in this particular movie — but once there, not exactly startling that he has an opinion or two on the ramifications of this circus.

Extras include commentary by Rock and producer Nelson George.

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