‘Bad Hair’: Film Review

Variety | 1/23/2020 | Amy Nicholson
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The year is 1989 and New Jack Swing is about to push black culture from the margins to the mainstream. The question for the black employees of Culture, the music TV station at the center of writer-director Justin Simien’s delightfully macabre horror-dramedy “Bad Hair,” is what image do they — and their white executive Grant (James Van Der Beek) — want to promote? Accuses one host, “You want us to appeal to a whiter — er, wider — audience.”

Before you can say Bel Biv Devoe, our heroine Anna (newcomer Elle Lorraine), an assistant who aspires to star in her own show, finds her braided boss pushed out and replaced by sleek ex-supermodel Zora (Vanessa Williams), who scowls at Anna’s short, natural curls and orders her to get a weave. And so ambitious Anna stitches her scalp with a stranger’s long, straight hair which, to her despair, literally slays.

Bad - Hair - Beauty - Standards - Pain

In “Bad Hair,” beauty standards bring pain. Anna’s hair is a battleground. After an opening scene of a **** hair-straightening gone wrong, she refuses to let it be touched. Combs, needles, scissors are obvious threats. (Sound designer Jon Michaels makes the attack of brush-against-scalp recall a lion ripping open a lamb.) The subtle violence is more sinister: the way pre-makeover Anna is ignored by men, passed over for promotions and isolated from her community, as she’s unwilling to enter the salons where women spend hours twisting, braiding and bonding.

Lorraine plays Anna as timid and hunched, a wallflower who rarely gets to flash her dynamite smile. She makes the audience want to protect her on sight. Yet, her on-again, off-again ex, a callous host with a formidable flattop (“Saturday Night Live’s” Jay Pharoah), hints that Anna has a dominant side she keeps tucked away in a drawer of bondage gear.

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