The kvetches of regulars at a cheery Beirut beauty salon couldn't be more familiar -- and that's the slender charm of Caramel, a Lebanese variation on sweetly soapy dramas about Women Who Bond With Wet Hair.
Filmgoers expecting My Big Fat Lebanese Waxing are in for a bigger treat: Nadine Labaki, who wrote and directed the film, possesses an astute instinct for restraint that makes Caramel smarter ans more poignantthan the average chick flick.
In a culture where female sexuality is problematic at best, how is a woman supposed to feed both body and heart? Through makeovers, support, and necessary lies, Caramel curtly answers.
There's a pleasant, easygoing charm to Caramel, largely stemming from Labaki's rare determination to depict Beirut as something other than a war-torn, slowly recovering battleground.
Set in a culture caught between East and West, between male chauvinism and female empowerment, Labaki's movie isn't about to revolutionize a genre -- its charms are modest, but many.
One of those small films that give a glimpse into a culture that's both foreign and familiar. It's filled with real-life touches and small insights and wonderfully human characters, and the whole thing feels as real as crossing the street.
As sugary as it may be, Caramel has a likeable edge to it, both in the natural performances of the mostly non-professional cast and the script's sardonic bluntness about social hypocrisies and the women's self-deception.
It's refreshing for a romantic comedy not to follow the formula by rote. I only wish I could be as enthusiastic about the amount of screen time accorded to certain characters who are more tedious than endearing.