Fox // 2003 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Packard (Retired) // September 17th, 2004
Get your style on.
Every now and then, a movie comes along that nearly redefines perfection. Filled with deep, rich characters, an incredible story, cinematography so beautiful as to make a strong man weep, and masterful direction weaving it all together, it's a movie not so much watched as it is experienced. It's a movie that transcends the senses and has a visceral impact on the heart and the soul.
This is not that movie. Oh, God, how this is not that movie.
Nora (Jenifer Lewis, The Sunday Morning Stripper) is the widowed, no-nonsense owner of the titular Nora's Hair Salon. This California salon is filled with an eclectic melting pot of folks thought of by Nora as "family" rather than "employees." Ming (Lucille Soong, Freaky Friday) is the salon's elderly Korean manicurist, Devin (writer Jean-Claude La Marre) is the mostly-gay-but-maybe-straight stylist and boyfriend to flamboyant Delicious (Donn Swaby), Clo (Tamala Jones, The Brothers) is the resident diva with a supposed outside clientele of A-list stars who struggles with raising a teenage niece, Xenobia is the feisty lollipop-guzzling Latino stylist, and Leronne (Lil J) is the bored gopher relegated to tasks like fetching food for the shop. Soon, Lilleanna (Tatyana Ali, Brother ) walks into the salon, desperate for a job. When she proves her mastery of the follicle arts on a botched client, Nora instantly makes her the newest member of her family.
The plot mostly deals with Nora reacting to the various doings of her staff. Lilleanna shows up to work black-eyed and bandaged thanks to Bennie (Bobbie Brown), Clo repeatedly blows off the salon to take care of her diva clientele and deal with her rebellious niece, and Ming blows a gasket at every client with gnarled claws or feet. It's no wonder that Nora has occasional chest pains dealing with it all.
The family enjoys a group dance in the salon, Bennie sends a goon into the salon to retrieve Lilleanna, said goon is spritzed with Ming's mystical knock-out potion and given a free makeover, Clo sneaks an important client into the salon, and everyone heads to a club for a little risqué dancing (three words: Ming the stripper) before tragedy strikes.
Let's get it out of the way right now: This movie is a nightmare from beginning to end and beyond (the horror extends to the featurette). It's obvious that this film was inspired by Barbershop, a film with surprising heart among the comedy. Nora's Hair Salon feels like a bad low-budget television movie filled with poor acting, poorer writing, one-dimensional stereotypical characters, and just enough foul language to garner an R rating.
If the opening credits and generic, repetitive music make you think you're about to watch an adult film instead of something put out by Fox Home Entertainment, don't worry -- you've put the right disc into your DVD player, even if the average adult film does have a better story than this mess.
As you are introduced to the characters, you'll notice that they are 1) played by individuals with very questionable acting skills and 2) derivative stereotypes of those in the cosmetology industry (and I should know, as my wife has worked as a manicurist in various salons for years). From the Korean manicurist to the fiery Latino to the sole male hairdresser who, of course, is gay, Nora's salon has them all. Only Jenifer Lewis displays any sort of real acting chops, but her role is mostly reaction shots and dishing out occasional golden nuggets of wisdom as the antics of the stylists take center stage. Tatyana Ali shows a flash of promise in the acting department as well, even if her performance is wildly inconsistent.
Technically, the film is a comedy/drama, but there's nothing funny or dramatic about it. The snaps between characters fall flat, and all other attempts at comedy simply wither and die. When things turn dramatic (primarily in the last act), there's no emotional response because, after all, who really cares what happens to characters you can't care about in the first place? They're poorly written, poorly acted, and inserted into a story that just isn't there. Even with a short running time, the film still manages to put in sitcom-like filler montages of the neighborhood, the salon equipment (rows of empty hairdryers!), or the staff at work.
This is the first time I've been pleased that a film was in a Full Frame aspect ratio instead of a widescreen presentation. Any opportunity I'm given to see less of this dreck on screen, I'll take it. The video is sharp and colorful, but that's about it. I'm also appreciative to be spared the horror of a full 5.1 sound mix: I can't even imagine what it must be like having this film coming at you from all directions.
Other than the trailer, you get one extra -- "The Making of Nora's Hair Salon." This featurette is Jean-Claude La Marre discussing various aspects of this film -- the script, the characters, you name it. I found it fascinating watching someone discuss this film apparently oblivious to just how bad it is.
At one hour and 24 minutes, this film is mercifully short, even if it feels twice as long. We have no other rebuttal witnesses, Your Honor. Other than Jenifer Lewis' sadly-underutilized acting abilities, the short running time is this film's only saving grace.
A thought-provoking ("When is this interminable dog going to end?") movie sure to leave you dealing with a wide range of emotions usually reserved for the stages of grief, Nora's Hair Salon can only be recommended for those into self-torture or persons with a morbid curiosity of what Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston (in a brief cameo) have been up to recently other than making the police blotter. It's also recommended for budding screenwriters dealing with self-confidence issues: Knowing crap like this can actually be green-lit, financed, and produced surely should give you a needed injection of self-confidence. Finally, to those in the cosmetology field -- do not be attracted to this by its title. Move along, there's nothing to see here.
Guilty on all counts. The court issues a cease-and-desist order against writer/actor Jean-Claude La Marre from any further stints in writing, acting, or anything else related to the entertainment industry. Director Jerry LaMothe is sentenced to truck driving school, a career for which he must surely be better suited. And if I see either of you in my courtroom again, I shall surely vomit upon my judicial robes. Court dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Packard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #40
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "The Making of Nora's Hair Salon" featurette