People Rule at the Barbershop
Here's the latest example of "It's not what ingredients you use; it's how you use them." At first glance, Barbershop looks like stale formula -- a young man named Calvin (Ice Cube) who has inherited his father's barbershop would sooner sell it than be tied down by it, but within a day he learns how valuable it is as a community institution. As an "urban" (i.e., about African-Americans) comedy, Barbershop is populated with stock characters -- the loud old guy, "Miss Thang," the would-be juvenile thug, the educated brother, the white-guy-who-wants-to-be-black, etc. We could very well be on our way to witnessing a boring corn-fest.
However, I'm happy to report that Barbershop is totally disarming -- it's lively, warm, and human. The characters may start off with one-note potential, but the story and the actors infuse them with life and color. We get to know these people as they play off of each other and react to various customers and events of the day. And they are used perfectly to illustrate the value of a community and their social hub.
Strongest when just letting us watch the people, this movie showcases the barbershop as a kind of roundtable of ideas being exchanged among social classes and generations. Each character has something to say about subjects ranging from racism to reparations, but none of it comes with any sort of heavy-handedness. As the best example, Cedric the Entertainer steals the scene where folks debate about the historical importance of Rosa Parks in a lively discussion that's extremely funny to watch. The emphasis is on ideas being presented, stereotypes being chipped away at, and recognition of how important it is to allow everyone to have his or her say.
One particular theme running through the movie involves the idea that there's little actual value in money, especially when compared to the value you can find in people. My own mother once told me, "Your friends are your real treasures," and that sentiment is echoed here. When Calvin laments about his father dying poor, another character corrects him by pointing out he certainly did not -- because he "invested in people." Meanwhile, a sub-plot involves two incompetent criminals trying to break open the contents of an ATM, and we are invited to laugh at their folly. In another scene, one character runs desperately from a person who is trying to give him money. Several more scenes emphasize how money should be seen as a means and not an end.
Frankly, I don't think Barbershop needed the little bit of preaching it included. A scene in which one character specifically talks about how important the barbershop is to everybody does occur, and it feels like someone drawing a picture of a landscape that's already been described vividly. But I suppose it helped drive home the movie's major theme.
Mostly, though, Barbershop left me feeling quite cheerful and positive. How nice it was to watch a "black movie" with limited references to drugs, gangs, rap music and booty, one that played up tolerance, ideas, and good humor instead. Barbershop transcends its genre, and I hope everyone gets a chance to see it.
(Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com)
Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and rated "PG-13" for language, sexual content, and brief drug references.