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Barbershop

Director: Tim Story
Cast: Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Troy Garity, Michael Ealy, Leonard Earl Howze, Keith David, Lahmard Tate, Jazsmin Lewis, Tom Wright, Cedric the Entertainer

(MGM; US theatrical: 13 Sep 2002; 2002)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

As The Girl in Barbershop, Philadelphia’s own E-V-E shows one more time that she plays very nicely with boys. In her first extended film role (that is, more than the few lines she had in XXX), Eve Jihan Jeffers holds her own on screen with some notably charismatic actors, including Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer. This isn’t to say that she hasn’t endeavored to expand her performance horizons previously—back in April, she and Salma Hayek joined other celebrities to read from The Vagina Monologues at the Apollo. As she told Newsweek (2 September 02), she takes her acting career seriously, in particular appreciating the “art” displayed by Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, in which he’s “able to play that character throughout a whole movie.”


Her enthusiasm is admirable. And it’s not like she doesn’t have other things to do. As a matter of fact, Barbershop is opening just over a week after she dropped her third album, Eve-Olution, for which she’s been doing the usual rounds—TRL, 106th & Park, Leno, the covers of Complex and Essence, where she’s looking trés fashionable with P. Diddy—and charming everyone. Anyone who’s been paying attention already knows that Ruff Ryders’ First Lady has had a plan for the future in place for some time—she wants to produce, invest, and give back. Toward those ends, she’s working with the best, winning an MTV Video Music Award last year for the wonderful “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” produced by kingmaker Dre and enlisting the crossover magic of Gwen Stefani, and hit-dueting again with this year’s (slightly less wonderful) “Gangsta Love,” with Alicia Keys.


While Eve may never be the J. Lo of hiphop—and why would anyone want to be so overexposed?—she most definitely has what they call “presence,” charging up the screen whenever she comes in view. For the most part in Barbershop, this involves her being in said shop, where her character, Terri, cuts heads and braids a few too. The film—which recalls the affable attitude and pacing of Ice Cube’s Friday films (the third due in theaters this November)—takes place over the course of a single day, which means that, while not a lot actually happens, there’s still a large crew of characters and a fair amount of plot (some of it strained) to be laid out in a short time.


The movie’s basic concept is clear in the title: the shop is a traditional communal space, where folks hang out, argue, tell stories, play checkers, and sharing plain talk about a range of topics. Director Tim Story (who has previously made music videos with R. Kelly, India.arie, and Tyrese) and Cube have a vision of sorts (as much as it’s schematized by writers Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, and Marshall Todd), and that vision begins and ends with community: like it is, was, and will be.


The primary tension of the day begins when Calvin (Cube), who inherited the place from his father, who inherited it from his father, sells it to a local (here, Chicago’s South Side) gangster named Lester (the always superb Keith David). Though Calvin’s pregnant wife Jennifer (Jasmine Lewis) suggests that this may not be the best time to start up a new business, he wants to build a studio so he can produce music. But of course, she’s right—almost as soon as he has the cash in his hand, Calvin’s rethinking his decision, and spends the rest of the day trying to figure a way out of the deal, which Lester has naturally arranged wholly to Calvin’s detriment anyway.


Calvin’s not the only one whose day isn’t going so well. Terri’s begins when she learns that her trifling boyfriend Kevin (Jason George) is hiding a girl under his bed: she arrives at work in a fury, topped off when she finds that one of her coworkers drank her apple juice. Though she’s clearly the object of much brotherly affection among the guys, and for Nigerian immigrant Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze), of a deeply felt crush, no one wants to fess up, but a theme becomes apparent—it’s about respect, for property, but more importantly, for people, as they live in contexts, have expectations and desires, and express themselves. The most trivial act can be loaded with meaning and consequence—what you do affects those around you.


This is, of course, a useful, if sobering lesson. Thank goodness, the film doesn’t deliver it in a particularly sobering fashion. This light touch stems from its characters, most painted in brief, deft strokes. Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), for example, used to work for Calvin’s dad, and now he spends his days regaling coworkers and customers alike with stories of the old days (when he demonstrates his shaving technique, complete with pearl-handled razor, everyone pays attention) and his rowdy, contentious opinions (“All Rosa Parks did was sit her ass down!” or again, “Martin Luther King was a ho!”).


While those who find themselves caught up in Eddie’s challenge-conversations might be mistaken for “types” at first glance, Barbershop allows them a little room to push against what you might expect. So, college boy Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas) presumes that he’s only cutting hair for tuition money, urging his fellows to think beyond the shop walls, but he comes off sounding like he’s riding some high horse, and the others resent it. Isaac (Troy Garity, son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden), who is Jewish, becomes a particular target for Jimmy, underlined during the scene where Isaac arrives to work, in his SUV: his black girlfriend slides her tongue down his throat, his hand grabs her ass, and Jimmy’s face goes screwy, like he’s just eaten a lemon. While Jimmy catches flack for acting too straight, he criticizes Isaac for dressing, talking, and acting too street.


The one barber who has street cred (in the form of two strikes on his arrest record) is Ricky (Michael Ealy), whom Calvin has hired in an effort to help him turn things around. When, at film’s beginning, the convenience store across the street is robbed, the local cop (Tom Wright) immediately suspects Ricky, and come by the shop to warn him they have tape of the getaway vehicle, and will be calling on him when they can read the license plate. Ricky protests, rightfully, and the film reveals right off that he’s not guilty, that the culprits are JD (Anthony Anderson) and Billy (Lahmard Tate). They think they’ve scored big—they took the store’s brand new ATM—but of course, they’ll learn that crime doesn’t pay. Unfortunately, while Anderson is sharp as ever, the occasional cuts to this subplot (how will they get the machine open?) slows everything else down, distracting from the more compelling community at Calvin’s.


By the end of the day, everyone—including reluctant Calvin—comes to appreciate both the bickering and the love at the shop, and the film does a decent job displaying the entertaining and supportive atmosphere. This is, in most every sense, a family film, not so raunchy or puerile as, say, the latest Austin Powers venture. And, unlike Carwash, for example, it’s not about getting over and it’s certainly careful about its language (early on, Calvin tells Terri to “stop cussin’,” because this is a family business, where kids and ladies get their hair cut). And unlike the Fridays, it does take its family appeal seriously; even Cedric tones down for PG-13 consumption.


The film’s multiple charms are all sweet. From its opening tune, Fabolous and P. Diddy’s “Trade It All (Part 2),” which gets radio-attuned viewers in the groove straightaway, to its series-of-little-vignettes structure, Barbershop aims to please rather than challenge or confront. The baseline problem—will Calvin recover his shop?—never threatens to be too hard to resolve. However simple it gets, it insists on being respectful: The Girl gets on with the boys, they figure out how to get on with each other, and Ice Cube demonstrates yet again that there’s nothing he can’t do well.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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