Good Hair -- Film Review

Following in the footsteps of Bill Maher, Chris Rock enters the documentary waters with this exploration of a rather less-weighty subject than religion.

Still, despite its inevitable limited niche appeal, "Good Hair" -- about the great efforts undertaken by black women (and more than a few men) toward their coiffures -- is entertaining and substantive enough to be interesting even for those completely unfamiliar with weaves and relaxers.

Rock, who had a hand in producing and writing the film as well as starring, was inspired to begin the project when his 5-year-old daughter asked him the poignant question, "Daddy, why I don't I have good hair?"

Thus began an exploration into societal attitudes toward natural black hair, which was all in vogue back in the '60s but which now has become widely unfashionable. This phenomenon is dealt with in a decidedly freewheeling fashion, with the jovial Rock interviewing such actress/performers as Nia Long, Raven Symone and Eve (all of them sporting decidedly straight, smooth hair); public figures ranging from a highly amusing Al Sharpton to Maya Angelou; and numerous ordinary folk.

He also gets the male perspective, spending quite a bit of screen time on the fact that black men often are expected to fund their significant others' hair-care needs that, in the case of extensions, can easily run up to $1,000. Corralling a gallery of ordinary Joes at, where else, a barbershop, he elicits hilarious observations about the topic as well as the intricacies of having sex with women who bristle at having their hair touched.

More seriously, he examines such issues as the harsh, destructive chemicals widely used in hair relaxers, the dangers of which are made devastatingly clear in a demonstration by a chemist in which a soda can is essentially dissolved after soaking in the solution for a few minutes.

The film also includes excursions to India, where devout Hindu women shave their heads only to have their hair turned into an expensive commodity for well-heeled American women; and Atlanta, home of the Dudley hair-care product empire and the Bronner Brothers International Hair Show, the latter featuring a wildly entertaining hairstyling contest that seems like something out of a Christopher Guest comedy.

Well balancing solid laughs with its pointed sociological examination of its heretofore cinematically unexplored subject, "Hair" should strike a solid chord.

Opens: Friday, Oct. 9 (Roadside Attractions)
Production: HBO Films, Zahrlo, Urban Romances
Director: Jeff Stilson
Screenwriters: Chris Rock, Jeff Stilson, Lance Crouther, Chuck Sklar
Producers: Chris Rock, Kevin O'Donnell, Jenny Hunter
Executive producer: Nelson George
Director of photography: Cliff Charles
Editors: Paul Marchand, Greg Nash
Music: Marcus Miller
Rated PG-13, 95 minutes
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