Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Video review: "Good Hair"

Chris Rock got the idea for "Good Hair" when his young daughter came up to him one day and asked, "Daddy, why don't I have good hair?"

That simple question led to this documentary about black women's relationship to their hair that is heartbreaking and illuminating, and often raucously funny.

Rock roams into Harlem hairdresser shops, an Atlanta stylist convention, factories filled with vats of chemical relaxers, and even remote Indian temples to answer his daughter's question.

What he discovers is a multiple-billion-dollar industry built around the idea of convincing African-Americans their hair needs to be tortured and teased in order to look "natural."

Some of the funniest scenes are in Rock's interviews with beautiful black celebrities like Nia Long, Eve and Raven-Symoné, who talk frankly about the expensive weaves they braid into their own coiffures.

Rock travels to India, visiting back-alley sweatshops where human hair is processed in a primitive fashion to be shipped to Beverly Hills boutiques. He even observes the religious practice of tonsure, the wellspring of this river of hair.

But the movie's real heart lies in Rock's revealing chats with everyday folks in barber shops, in scenes that are both funny and confessional.

Other than a copy of the theatrical trailer, DVD extras are limited to a single item. But it's a doozy: A feature-length commentary track with Rock and producer Nelson George.

The commentary is nearly as much fun as the movie itself, and also offers a few special insights. For example, Rock met one of the film's principal subjects, a hair product magnate, while attending a fundraiser for Barack Obama at Oprah's house.

I also liked their running commentary about their trip to India, including a surprising find by Rock in the local airport, and George's decision to throw away his luggage upon returning home.

The lack of other features is grating, though. What's especially odd is that during their commentary, Rock and George repeatedly refer to things that will be in the DVD extras.

I kept hunting through the disc's menus to find these phantom extras.

Movie: 3.5 stars
Extras: 2.5 stars

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