‘Good Hair’ a good time

Susan Watts/New York Daily News/MCT
Chris Rock, 2007.

Morgan Spurlock, look lively. Sacha Baron Cohen, watch your
back. Chris Rock’s bright, wisecracking expose Good Hair is the mane event.

Let’s not call it a documentary; it’s just too entertaining.
Untangling the knotty issues of identity, sex, culture and commerce surrounding
African-American hairstyling, Rock has made his funniest film ever,
“Madagascar” and “Pootie Tang” included.

The inspiration for this Sundance-winning charmer came when
Rock’s 5-year-old daughter asked why she didn’t have “good hair.” To
find out where she got that idea, Rock interviews everyone from men and women
in the salon to Ice-T and Maya Angelou. He roams the exhibit floor of Atlanta’s
massive and surreal Bronner Bros. Hair Show. He stages hair-raising
demonstrations of sodium hydroxide “relaxer” literally burning
through chicken flesh and disintegrating aluminum cans.

In the process, Rock poses ticklish questions about race and
sex. Paul Mooney, who did comedy with Richard Pryor, offers an old-school
explanation for the fixation with unkinked hair. “If your hair is relaxed,
white people are relaxed. If you’re nappy, they’re not happy.” But the
film makes it clear that it’s an aesthetic choice many women and men make for

In freewheeling fashion, Good Hair bombards us with jaw-dropping info nuggets. Black
people, 12 percent of the U.S. population, buy 80 percent of the nation’s hair
products. It’s a $9 billion-a-year market, equivalent to the American breakfast
cereal industry. Extensions easily run as high as $3,500, and can make intimacy
with women whose hairdo is a No Touch Zone a tricky arrangement. Actress Nia
Long, sporting a long, silky, flowing weave, confesses she’s never dunked her
head in her swimming pool.

Rock travels to India, the hair-export capital of the world,
to find the roots of the tress trade. Hindu women cut off their long locks in a
religious ritual renouncing vanity, and the temple sweepings are combed, washed
and sold to American beauty salons. A commuter’s suitcase full of extensions
can fetch $15,000. When Rock tests the market for black hair, shopkeepers
regard him like a lunatic.

The comedic peak is the twice-yearly Bronner Bros. hair
extravaganza, which draws 100,000 attendees. Rock follows four flamboyant
hairdressers through a low-budget/high-showmanship styling contest that melds
“Iron Chef” and the Westminster dog show. Contestants sashay through
bizarre themed presentations that conclude with them cutting heads upside-down
or underwater in a giant fish tank.

If you saw it in a Christopher Guest film you’d never buy
it, yet it’s all real. Rock wisely lets the inherent humor of the situation
speak for itself. The film is irreverent, not condescending. It tweaks
deserving targets, but never mocks. Good Hair is a good time.

Good Hair
3 stars
Chris Rock
Directed by:

Rated PG-13 for profanity, sex and drug references, partial

Colin Covert reviews movies for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.