'Ain't nobody exempt in the barbershop'
by Richard Roeper
Imagine what would happen if somebody made a movie featuring a virtually all-white cast of characters who hang out at work all day, cutting each other up and speaking the plain truth about everything, from women to food to history to racial issues, mostly racial issues.
Picture an older white guy, 60ish maybe, holding court.
"Black people need to stop lying!" he says. "There's three things that black people need to tell the truth about.
"One, Rodney King should have got his ass beat for driving drunk . . . in a Hyundai. Two, O.J. did it. And three, Rosa Parks didn't do nothing but sit her black a-- down [on that bus]."
Now picture another debate, this one about reparations for black Americans, with one of the characters offering the opinion that reparations "wouldn't do anything but make Cadillac the most popular car dealer in the country."
And when the talk turns to Martin Luther King, his alleged promiscuity is referenced in immediate and direct fashion.
Can you picture the Rev. Jesse Jackson gearing up for the press conference and the picketing and the calls for a boycott? Especially when he finds out that this same film includes a scene where a character says, "F--- Jesse Jackson"?
Well, a movie with the dialogue detailed above IS opening Friday--with one key difference between my scenario and the actual product.
In the real movie, all of those lines are spoken by blacks.
"Barbershop" is the story of one day in the life of a haircut emporium on the South Side of Chicago, with Ice Cube playing a young married man who has inherited the troubled shop from his late father and is struggling to keep it alive. There's a comic side plot about two hapless small-time crooks who steal an empty ATM, and there are a few romantic relationships in full crisis mode, but about half of the film takes place within the walls of that shop--and that's where the movie crackles with life and energy and spirit and love.
Remember those hilarious barbershop scenes in "Coming to America," with Eddie Murphy playing multiple characters? "Barbershop" picks up where "Coming to America" left off.
There's a stellar ensemble cast, including Sean Patrick Thomas from "Save the Last Dance" as a book-smart but condescending barber who's constantly lecturing his co-workers; the rapper Eve as the lone female haircutter, who's trying to find the strength to leave her serial philanderer of a boyfriend; Michael Ealy as an intelligent and charming two-time convict trying to stay out of trouble, and Troy Garity as the obligatory Caucasian who's the wannabe black guy that drives an Escalade, has a black girlfriend and dresses and talks like Eminem, but is told at one point that he's "nothing but a minstrel show turned on its ear . . . blackface for the new millennium."
But it's Cedric the Entertainer who owns the movie as Eddie, the old-school barber who's been working the same chair since the 1960s and spends about 95 percent of his time pontificating and 5 percent actually giving somebody a shave or a haircut.
Eddie eats fried chicken and he mispronounces words, with "seniority" coming out as "senyority," and "reparations" turning into "respirations," but he's no fool and he's no simple cliche. Yes, he says King was hardly an innocent citizen and that O.J. is guilty and that Rosa Parks started out not as a civil rights activist but as a tired woman who didn't want to move to the back of the bus--but when he does so, he's stating the opinions of more than a few people, not all of them white. (Eddie's also a decent man--the father figure to the Ice Cube character.)
When some of his younger colleagues get on his case, Eddie says, "Is this a barbershop? Is this a barbershop? If we can't talk straight in a barbershop, then where can we talk straight? We can't talk straight nowhere else. You know this ain't nothing but healthy conversation."
"Why you gotta tear Rosa Parks down?" says a fellow barber.
"Ain't nobody exempt in the barbershop," replies Eddie. "You can talk about whoever and whatever you want in a barbershop."
And that's the small glory of this film--the honesty that bounces off those walls. "Barbershop" isn't a "black movie," it's a movie about interesting, three-dimensional, smart and hilariously opinionated black people. It would be a shame if whites and other ethnic groups stayed away, thinking there's nothing in this movie for them. "Barbershop" isn't just for blacks any more than "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is just for Greeks--and here's hoping this new movie follows the pattern set by "Wedding" and becomes a word-of-mouth smash hit.
It'll be interesting to see how "Barbershop" plays--not just with full-time film critics of all races, but with black commentators and community leaders, and with the moviegoing public. Will they find it to be an honest celebration of the longtime significance of the neighborhood barbershop in many a black community--or a stereotype-laden chuckle-fest with a self-loathing character who criticizes his own people?
I think it's a hell of a human story, filled with likable, honest characters. Black or white or Asian or Hispanic, I hope you check it out and tell me what you think.
It sounds interesting. "Dialogue" movies like this generally don't interest me, but I may have to make an exception in this case.