Stealing beauty

Queen Latifah’s follow-up to the ‘Barbershop’ movies creates an idyllic world of peace and justice

Thank heaven for the deliriously optimistic “Beauty Shop.” The world needs more idealized movies like this because, well, the world really isn’t like this at all.

Its optimism is what makes “Beauty Shop” a trifle but a welcome trifle. The film sees the world through a filter that renders it unbelievable, but this is the kind of filter we cynics wish we could use to overlook the pain and atrocity of modern life.

Featuring almost exclusively black actors, “Beauty Shop” does not quite follow the trend of other films in this genre, such as “Barbershop” or “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” in using caricatures of black culture for cheap laughs. Rather, it views its characters and their plight quite seriously and makes an encouraging film of strong people who find a means of living out their dreams.

Gina (Queen Latifah) is an expert stylist, respected by her co-workers and loved by her clients. Her boss is the mushy prima donna Jorge, played by hilariously over-the-top Kevin Bacon, who reminds Gina on a daily basis that he can do her job better than she can.

So one day, she sets out to prove him wrong.

After securing a modest business loan, refurbishing a decrepit salon and assembling an interracial team, she opens up for business, and the customers quickly flock to her in droves.

Ah, but can she overcome Jorge’s systematic attempts to ruin her business? And make her daughter proud? And fall in love with Joe (Djimon Hounsou), the electrician upstairs?

What is missing here are the cultural challenges the film’s background hints at but that never make their way into Gina’s reality.

Sure, she has challenges getting a loan in a bank that seems to be subtly racist. She has black and white employees who clash in their world views. She has white customers who clearly think they’re better than her. And Gina often turns to the radio and the daily Miss Josephine (Alfre Woodard) program, as a source of cultural unity.

But then, the comedy backs off, just when it should be pushing forward.

The corrupt city inspector gets his comeuppance. The employees quickly learn to appreciate what’s beneath one another’s surface. Gina does the loan officer’s hair and gets the loan.

All that’s missing is the pretty pink bow and some omniscient narrator trailing off with “happily ever after.”

In the service of a light, fluffy comedy, this is all well and good. We’re happy for Gina and her success. It’s a pity, though, director Bille Woodruff couldn’t take the film somewhere more intelligent or interesting.

“Beauty Shop” has the potential to not just be a fun comedy but a good film.

However, most people don’t want reality in the movies. They want to sit idly by, chomping on their popcorn, watching the laugh machine spew forth more scenes of good cheer.

The real question, though, is why must “Beauty Shop” cover up and apologize for its serious undertones?

Sometimes, Hollywood should consider whether to interrupt that cycle, stop the popcorn in midair and remind people of what’s going on outside that theater.