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Just in time for the new four-part remake of Roots (premiering over Memorial Day Weekend on the History Channel) comes the cringe-inducing Lifetime movie Showing Roots, which uses the first airing of the seminal 1970s miniseries about slavery in America as backdrop for a tone-deaf race-relations parable. The Help with hairdressers.
It’s 1977 in the small Southern town of Whynot (a perfect locale for the film equivalent of the Twitter shrug emoji). Meek aspiring stylist Violet (Maggie Grace, Liam Neeson’s abducted daughter in the Taken movies) and sassy follicle-sweeper-upper Pearl (Uzo Aduba, aka Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on Orange Is the New Black) form one of those friendships that indie film festival brochures like to term “unlikely.” Both women are from opposite sides of the tracks, but they come together each day in the Main Street salon run by the bleached-blonde, primly racist Shirley (Elizabeth McGovern). The two women hate their boss, and their dreams of bettering themselves are constantly deferred. Yet they seem more or less resigned to sticking to their place.
AIR DATE May 26, 2016
Then adorably dippy hippie Bud (Adam Brody) rolls into town, slamming his van into Violet’s red wagon filled with recyclable Coke bottles. (She planned to use the proceeds to purchase a new stylist chair.) It’s the first contrived step toward a full-on rebellion that sees Violet and Pearl repudiating their hypocritical boss (who happens to be secretly getting it on with the town sheriff) and going into business for themselves. The duo opens a competing salon called “Salt and Pepper” that slowly but surely attracts clientele from both the White and African-American communities, thus forcing the town’s age-old prejudices into the open. P-push it real good, gals!
All of the action takes place over the course of the eight consecutive days during which the original Roots miniseries aired. So the title has an eye-rolling double meaning: Roots is literally showing on television and Whynot’s African-American women learn to proudly show off the natural roots of the hair that they’ve historically kept covered up with wigs and other mock-tresses. Ugh.
In a film composed entirely of terrible scenes, perhaps none is more embarrassing than the one in which Pearl’s relative Mattie (original Roots star Cicely Tyson) becomes so emotionally affected by an episode of the miniseries that she hobbles off to a nearby bridge and defiantly throws her false hair into the water below. But there are other howlers, too, such as an early sequence in which Pearl makes an astoundingly offensive parallel between the put-upon, timid Violet and Roots’ enslaved protagonist Kunta Kinte. Or a climactic fistfight between Pearl and Shirley that seems, in its sheer slapstick ineptitude, like it was ported in from one of those soul-killingly unfunny Friedberg/Seltzer parodies.
Worst in show, however, must go to this facepalming line of dialogue from earnest ol‘ Bud as he attempts to cozy up to Violet: “I understand loss. My parents are divorced, and I was in ‘Nam.” Somewhere, a bested Tommy Wiseau weeps.
Cast: Maggie Grace, Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth McGovern, Adam Brody, Cicely Tyson
Director: Michael Wilson
Writer: Susan Batten
Premieres: Thursday, May 26, 10 p.m. ET/PT (Lifetime)
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