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Beauty Shop Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

Beauty Shop is a spin-off of the hit Barbershop films, but it's not some senseless cash-in. Despite some overwhelming similarities to its parent films, Beauty Shop is very much its own movie, with its own sense of humor, its own attitude, and its own confident swagger. Like Barbershop, Beauty Shop works because it's more than just laughs. The story here has very real notes, which strengthens the film's emotional messages and sharpens the characters and jokes with a human edge. The humor becomes sort of effortless, like the joking conversations you have with old friends, and as a result, we end up having as much fun at Queen Latifah's salon as we did at Ice Cube's shop.

Queen Latifah, that sassy and, in a way, sexy actress from great films like Chicago and bad ones like Taxi, embraces Beauty Shop with warmth and authority. By now we know that when the Queen acts, the Queen commands, and she has rarely been as commanding a presence as she is in Beauty Shop. Latifah plays Gina Norris, a strong independent woman, single mother of a gifted daughter (Paige Hurd), and the star stylist of a premiere beauty salon in Atlanta. Her boss is the self-absorbed, flamboyant stylist, Jorge (Kevin Bacon), who's so over-the-top he'd probably wear a feather boa to work if it wasn't in danger of all the clippers and hot curlers. Right from the beginning, we know that a woman like Gina can't work like this for long-she's too smart, too good and too ambitious for Jorge's stuck-up salon. And, sure enough, Gina quits one day and buys her own shop (after acquiring a small loan in exchange for giving a bank employee some beauty tips).

The shop is small, but it has character, and after a short renovating montage, the place truly becomes Gina's. The final touch, of course, is populating the salon with interesting hairdressers, and boy does Gina find some. One is a passionate fan of Maya Angelou (and leads the ladies in many spirited recitals of her poetry), another is pregnant but still prowling for men, and still another is a handsome young man who's sexual orientation is the frequent subject of debate. There's also a token white hairdresser, played with an adorable southern drawl by Alicia Silverstone, who fights hard to fit in. Then there are the customers and other folks who frequent Gina's, like two women-one a sweetheart (Andie MacDowell) and one a cold hard bitch (Mena Suvari)- who abandon Jorge's to support Gina. And let's not forget Joe (Djimon Hounsou), the electrician/pianist/resident good looking man who lives above Gina's shop.

Like the Barbershop films, Beauty Shop is at its best whenever we visit the chatty regulars. The silly subplots (which involve everything from Gina's boy-crazy cousin (Keisha Knight-Pulliam) give the film some shape, but none of them really matter-it's the conversations, the insights, the difficulties, and the lives buzzing in Gina's shop that keep us entertained. Granted, there's nothing in Beauty Shop to rival Cedric the Entertainer's controversial tirades in Barbershop, but the humor here is nonetheless relaxed and unforced. We feel comfortable with these characters, to the point where we almost feel like we're part of the conversations ourselves. It's nice to find a comedy that isn't putting on a show-Beauty Shop finds humor by just being itself.

Of course, it helps that the cast jells so well. Queen Latifah proves herself quite the comedienne, and carries the other actors into a blissful state of relaxed humor. Then there's Djimon Hounsou, that tall glass of handsome whom I simply couldn't take my eyes off of in this film. His role is so contrived, the beautiful electrician who just happens to live above a shop with gorgeous women and bad wiring, but Hounsou is such an engaging actor that you forget his character and just swoon for him. And here's something interesting-in one scene, where Latifah and Hounsou are talking alone in the Beauty Shop, I suddenly realized I was watching two Oscar nominated actors. I had to smile. What a wonderful world we live in.

Fans of Barbershop will probably find Beauty Shop a bit inferior, and it is, but there's fun to be had here. Beauty Shop is light, breezy comedy at its best, a good flick to catch quickly on one of these few rainy days before spring.

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