Over the past three years, a Chicago Barbershop has twice opened its doors to movie audiences, letting them look on as men from the South Side trade barbs and "discuss" social issues while getting a little taken off the top. Now it’s the girls’ turn.
Gina Norris, who first made her appearance in Barbershop 2: Back in Business, has moved from Chicago to Atlanta so her daughter can attend a prestigious music school. At first Gina works at an upscale salon owned by a snobbish, tactless and talentless rogue named Jorge. But he quickly proves so lacking in the social graces that she's forced to quit just to stay sane. She's always wanted to open her own salon, so she uses her "bad boss luck" as motivation to turn a rundown store in the heart of Atlanta into her own place of style and beauty.
She's so good at what she does that many of her wealthy clients from Jorge’s chic salon follow her, despite the rough surroundings. But going solo isn’t easy, and despite her can-do attitude, Gina seems to take two steps back for each step forward. First it’s her old building's faulty wiring; then it’s an unreasonable state board inspector who hands out fine after fine. Can’t a girl get a break?
Like Calvin in the Barbershop movies, Gina is an overwhelmingly positive character. She perseveres through numerous setbacks because she is, in her own words, “a phenomenal woman.” She tries to raise her daughter to be not only a successful pianist, but a successful person.
Gina tells her clients (and her workers) they’re beautiful, treats them with class and even protects them at times. Despite being rejected for a financial loan, she gives her loan officer an impromptu makeover. After her sister-in-law, Darnelle, is put in jail for possessing a stolen motorcycle, Gina bails her out and in the process tries to teach her the value of hard work and necessity of straightening out her life.
Gina is typically calm under fire. When a golden opportunity at hairdressing fame falls through, she calmly reasons that “it just wasn’t meant to be.” And she's unafraid to stand up for her beliefs. She encourages those around her, especially her loyal friend, Lynn, who’s the only white hairdresser at her salon. She doesn’t allow her workers to use the n-word or other derogatory terms. And she makes a point of including Lynn in the shop’s hobnobbing, even when she's pressured by other black women to ostracize the girl because of her race.
When a young boy treats women inappropriately, Gina tells him to show some respect (even throwing him out of her shop after he mouths off to her). And when an employee wants to make her work outfit sexier, Gina asks her to cover up her cleavage (though to no avail).
Gina’s romantic interest supports her, helps her and assures her she’ll make it through a bleak situation. Gina’s daughter, meanwhile, is as grounded as her mother. Discussing hip-hop music, she states her dislike for “boys who exploit women” and proudly calls classical music true art. (A beautician later equates MTV with the devil, though her motivation for doing so isn't the primary reason the music channel causes so much cultural harm.)
Rather than allowing Gina to get despondent over all the needed repairs in her newly acquired salon, her mother-in-law admonishes her to “look at the blessing in this—you’ve got your own shop.” And when it seems as if Gina will be forced to close her doors, her friends rally together to help her out, with Lynn pointing out that it’s not money that’s most valuable, but friends.
Gina’s mother-in-law blurts out lines such as “Lord Jesus, have mercy,” “We need Jesus” and "Excuse me, Lord." It should be noted, however, that she is one of the movie's crudest characters. While the previous owner of Gina’s salon is remembered as a Christian, she’s said to have cheated people out of money. Gina mentions going to church with her daughter. One of her workers sings the first line of “Amazing Grace.” As the credits roll, a song includes a prayer of sorts (“I hope God is proud of me”).
From the opening minutes of Beauty Shop, audiences are slathered with slang terms for intercourse, sexual innuendoes and crude conversations as thick and sticky as a bucketful of extra-hold hair gel. Sex toys, oral sex and orgasms all serve as beauty shop banter, as does the question of whether shaving private parts is a sexual turn-on or -off. A client’s breast augmentation becomes the core of ongoing jokes as she asks Gina to feel her nipples, and others make numerous “t-tty” references. Gina’s mother-in-law coarsely jokes about women’s erogenous zones, comments on a sexual position and laughs about her husband’s malformed penis. A DJ comments about her bedroom activities throughout the movie.
On the visual side of things, a boy repeatedly zooms in with his video camera on the backsides of women (we, of course, see the shots). On more than one occasion we’re given close-ups of girls in very short shorts. Several women wear cleavage-revealing tops or skin-tight outfits—or both. Lynn “drops it like it’s hot” at a club, dancing suggestively and grinding against a man’s groin. The couple share passionate kisses, as do Gina and her romantic interest. A client grabs a man’s behind.
Equally crude, the young boy with the video camera makes sexual comments to older women, then hits on Gina's daughter. After calling her “lover” and saying he’d like to “get all over [her] body,” he suggests she wear revealing clothing (even hinting at her donning a wet T-shirt) to star in his supposed music video.
The presumably gay Jorge (he's presented as an extreme example of the flamboyant hair stylist) jokingly suggests that a male client take off his pants. Women at Gina's salon debate (seemingly endlessly) whether a male co-worker is gay or straight. To fuel their discussion, he's seen saying and doing things that make him look like he is.
A man roughhousing Darnelle gets knocked out cold by another man. After punching him in the face, the rescuer comments that he hates violence. Gina’s shop is ransacked (all we see is the aftermath). A group of men brandishing scissors seem to be threatening to "cut" Jorge; then the scene becomes a joke as he’s held down and given a haircut. As mentioned, Gina throws a kid onto the sidewalk when he talks dirty.
Crude or Profane Language
The s-word is used just under a half-dozen times, while God’s name is profaned nearly a dozen. Jesus' is misused once. Though used to make a point, “n-gger” is said several times. Add milder profanities and crude sexual terms to the tally and it’s just shy of 100, turning this movie about beauty into a very ugly thing.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Gina and her friends celebrate good news by going to a club and drinking. (Thankfully, a pregnant woman says she won't drink.) Gina’s wonder-working hair conditioner is repeatedly called “hair crack.” On a radio show, her mother-in-law talks about wanting to legalize marijuana. A woman laughs about the prospect of numbing the pain of breast-enlargement surgery with Vicodin.
Other Negative Elements
Jorge bribes a state official and even pays for Gina’s store to be ransacked. A woman’s husband is said to have been cheating on her for a long time. The women at Gina's salon make it abundantly clear that they believe all men cheat. A joke is made about Tourette's syndrome.
If the plot for Beauty Shop seems a little thin, that’s because it is. And if it feels a little familiar, that’s because it’s a virtual duplicate of the first two Barbershop movies (minus the political potshots).
I'll give the movie’s creators, including Queen Latifah and Barbershop’s Ice Cube, every benefit of the doubt for having good intentions. They take a struggling single mom determined to make something of herself, put her in an everyday setting, surround her with a gregarious female entourage and let them make a difference in their urban community. But positive messages found in this slice of inner-city life are often lost amidst misguided attempts at “keepin’ it real.” (Originally assigned an R rating for its coarse content, the film was re-rated PG-13 after Latifah personally appealed before the MPAA.)
In a sense, that's the easy part—berating a movie because it's filled with sexual crudities and foul language. What's not so easy to pin down is Beauty Shop’s treatment of race relations. Gina is conscientiously colorblind, going out of her way to treat her white customers no differently than anyone else. She remains loyal to her white friend, Lynn, defending her even when others question her own “blackness.” Yet throughout the film, Lynn is the subject of exclusion. It's one thing to watch two black women complain that Gina is "whitening up the place" and walk out on their jobs when Lynn is hired. They're obviously ne'er-do-wells and are condemned for their reaction. But the friction doesn't ease much after they leave. The remaining black women persist in tormenting the girl for what appears to be the crime of trying to fit in. When she laughs at “black” jokes, she’s glared at as the room goes silent, for instance. And despite Lynn having already proved her competency, a co-worker smirks at her and tells her she couldn’t possibly understand how to style a black woman’s hair. (On the other side of the coin, some of Jorge's comments to Gina carry veiled racial put-downs. And a bank official unfairly tweaks Gina for spending her life playing "race cards" instead of building her financial portfolio by using credit cards.)
“I miss the ’70s where you had shows like The Jeffersons and All in the Family where black people could be black and white people could be white,” Latifah says. “Racists could be racists, and non-racists could be non-racists, but it was talked about. You could form your own opinion as to how ignorant or how reasonable these people were being. See, we don’t talk about the s--- no more. Excuse my language, but we don’t. We’re just politically correct and we act as if it went away and it didn’t go away.”
It certainly doesn't go away in Beauty Shop. The tension between whites and blacks is thick and obvious. And it's never resolved. Maybe it's OK not to resolve such a heavy subject in a comedy, but it doesn't seem fair to me that the very elements that Beauty Shop makes a point of frowning upon—racism, the denigration of women, stereotypical judgments, etc.—are the very things it uses to draw laughs, sometimes in a extremely vicious and crass manner.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Queen Latifah as Gina Norris; Alicia Silverstone as Lynn; Andie MacDowell as Terri Green; Alfre Woodard as Miss Josephine; Mena Suvari as Joanne Marcus; Kevin Bacon as Jorge Christophe; Djimon Hounsou as Joe; Keshia Knight Pulliam as Darnelle
Bille Woodruff ( )