Beauty Shop

Mena Suvari and Queen Latifah in Beauty Shop

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

18 March

 

Queen Latifah born, 1970

Today in 1970, Queen Latifah was born, as Dana Elaine Owens, in Newark, New Jersey. An outgoing girl with an interest in sport and acting, she sang in a baptist choir as a child, picked up the Latifah monicker aged eight, formed a rap group, Ladies Fresh, in her first year of high school. She was the beatbox. At the age of 18 Fab 5 Freddy was given a copy of her rap Princess of the Posse by DJ Mark the 45 King, which led to her being signed by Tommy Boy Music. Her first album, All Hail the Queen, was released the following year and sold a million. She immediately branched out, into jazz and soul music, production, management and property, as well as acting, in movies and on TV.

 

 

 

Beauty Shop (2005, dir: Bille Woodruff)

Queen Latifah’s commanding physical presence, sass and likeability are key to the success of a film that needs a good strong anchor. Looking initially like a female version of Barbershop – a very laidback film about black guys shooting the breeze and starring the likes of Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer – Beauty Shop actually does turn out to have a plot. And it’s the one about a woman following her dream, creating her own space, setting up her own beauty shop, in fact, after walking out on her impossible employer (played to the hilt by Kevin Bacon). Even so, this plottiness isn’t what the film is about: it’s a showcase for warm characters, fine examples of humanity, wise words, face-offs, home truths, talk-to-the-hand showdowns, the full deal – but no N words, no bitches and hoes, “except for the ones that don’t tip” says Gina. So while Latifah’s Gina is opening her new Shop, taking in her first customers, welcoming some old faces from the previous place and fighting off the dastardly attempts by Kevin Bacon’s character to hole her new enterprise below the waterline, all around her are wheeling characters saying their stuff, telling their story. It doesn’t sound like much, to describe it, but Beauty Shop is a real case of feeling the quality of the characters rather than measuring the width of the plot. Which is where the performers come in – Alfre Woodward, Djimon Hounsou (a bit of love interest), Alicia Silverstone (token white girl as Troy Garrity was token white boy in Barbershop), Mena Suvari (as an entitled bitch), Keshia Knight-Pulliam (as the girl running off the rails). All presided over by Latifah, who still hasn’t found a film that really puts all her talents to full use. Until one does come along, this will have to do.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Queen Latifah’s performance
  • A very funny Kevin Bacon
  • Mena Suvari’s bitch from hell
  • Warm ensemble playing

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Beauty Shop – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

American Beauty

Mena Suvari in American Beauty

 

 

London theatre director Sam Mendes’s debut as a movie director has been treated by some critics as if it were a missive from the gods. Perhaps it was the opening scene which showed Kevin Spacey jerking off in the shower which did it for them – so bold, so adult. The film locks straight in to a long line of suburban dystopian drama and hangs its story off the jowls of Spacey, playing the worm that turned, the comfortable middle-class corporate Joe who chucks it all in for the easy release of drugs and sex after he becomes infatuated with his daughter’s best friend (Mena Suvari). His wife, meanwhile, is filling in the odd minutes she has left over from giving too much of herself to her job as a realtor by embarking on an affair. His daughter, also, is up to something she shouldn’t, with the strangely stalkerish boy next door (Wes Bentley). Whatever you think about the film, there is no doubting Spacey’s performance – it is a humdinger. Spacey squeezes the script to bulk out a character who is, on closer examination, one-ply. The other characters, too, verge on the one-dimensional. But are Annette Bening the wife and Thora Birch the daughter deliberately so thin – for some sort of comic effect, or are we watching artless caricature? The settings, dreamily photographed by Conrad Hall, are worryingly familiar too. Depending on inclination, or mood, they might seem necessarily sketchy, to allow the plot to unfold and the drama to take flight. Or on another day completely unrealistic, a fragile chimera only there to be knocked down, in order for the drama to claim some spurious victory – yay, suburbia vanquished! Is it Noh theatre? Or just a case of no drama? That’s, perhaps, the beauty of American Beauty.

© Steve Morrissey 2000

 

American Beauty – at Amazon