Tackling tough and controversial subjects, in a funny and interesting way has always been Chris Rock’s business. But the comedian has had a tough time translating that into his feature film career. He’s had success with his HBO stand-up specials, some would even say that has been his best work, and his HBO talk show, “The Chris Rock Show,” was a hit as well so why can’t the funniest comedian in the world translate that to film? Maybe it’s just that he hasn’t found the right cinematic venue for his comedy, yet? Well, if that’s the case then Rock may have finally found his calling as a documentary filmmaker with his new movie, “Good Hair.”
In “Good Hair” comedian Chris Rock hands in his stand-up’s microphone for a documentarian’s film camera as he takes us through the $9 Billion a year black hair industry. The film is a fascinating look at the Africa-American hair culture and the people who profit from it. In classic Rock style, the comedian travels to Atlanta and attends the Bronner Brother's Hair Show and follows four contestants as they compete in the world famous event. Rock continues his journey by traveling to beauty saloons and barbershops across the country asking regular everyday people in the black community, “What makes good hair?” He also visits a scientific laboratory to learn about the science behind the relaxers used to straighten hair. Finally Rock travels to India to discover exactly where the hair used in weaves (wigs that are very popular with African-American Women) comes from. In the process the comedian interviews celebrities like Nia Long, Raven Symone, Maya Angelou, Reverend Al Sharpton, Ice-T and Salt-n-Pepa about their own experiences with their hair and how black hair is perceived in the black community.
According to Rock, he was prompted to make the movie after his 5-year old daughter, Lola, asked him, "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" However, the original roots of the idea came to Rock over fifteen years ago when he was in Atlanta doing a stand-up show. He noticed that his hotel was packed with people and he asked one of them what they were in town for. The patron answered, “For the Bronner Brother's Hair Show.” Rock at that time had never heard of the 100,000 attendees a year show that has been going on since the early ‘50s but it was that question that led Rock to have the idea for this film.
What Rock achieves with “Good Hair” is a funny and thought-provoking film not unlike Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” or more recently Bill Maher’s “Religulous.” It has the ability to make you think and laugh at the same time while teaching you something that you may not have previously known. This is what a good documentary should do, however, a good documentary is only as good as its subject and “Good Hair” has a great subject. It’s one that everyone can relate to no matter what race or culture you are from. Everyone wants to present themselves in the best way possible and our appearance, whether you like it or not, is the first thing that the world sees when they meet you so I think this is a subject anyone can relate to. Not to mention it is fascinating, especially to someone like my self who is not African-American and for the most part was unaware of this phenomenon.
The celebrities in the film are all used well cutting in stories of their lives that intersect with the themes Rock is dealing with at different points in the film. Maya Angelou is surprisingly hilarious in her segments as is an extremely candid Reverend Al Sharpton who really emphasizes the racial and political importance of the subject. Ice-Tea is equally candid reliving his old school pimp ethics and Salt-n-Pepa share a true story that pulls the curtain back on the creation of their trendsetting hairstyle from the ‘90s. But it’s the real-life characters who compete in the Bronner Brother's Hair Show event who Rock interviews that will steal audiences attention with their outrageous dedication to the competition.
However the true star of “Good Hair” is Chris Rock. Rock shows a relaxed ease in front of the camera that could only come from years of stand-up and live television. His thoughtful and funny questions work perfectly and that harsh Rock wit we all know and love is center stage in this piece. One scene in particular that showcases this is when Rock is in the laboratory with a scientist. They are both dressed in lab gowns, wearing goggles and they are just looking at each other not saying a word. The look on Rock’s face is priceless and absolutely hilarious. In my opinion “Good Hair” could mark a turning point in Chris Rock’s career. I’d like to see Rock make more documentary style comedies on different subjects that he deems socially important in the future, ala Michael Moore. Whether Rock takes that direction with the rest of his career or not, “Good Hair” stands as a very funny documentary worth seeing that will make you laugh as much as it will make you think.