(director/writer: Justin Simien; cinematographer: Topher Osborn; editors: Phillip J. Bartell, Kelly Matsumoto; music: Kris Bowers; cast: Jay Pharoah (Julius), Zaria Kelley (Young Anna), Corinne Massiah (Young Linda), Elle Lorraine (Anna Bludso), Kelly Rowland (Sandra), Vanessa Williams (Zora), Laverne Cox (Virgie), Chanté Adams (Linda Bludso), Blair Underwood (Amos Bludso), Lena Waithe (Brooke-Lynn), James Van Der Beek (Grant Madison), Judit h Scott (Edna), Usher Raymond (Germane D), Yaani King Mondschein (Sista Soul), Michelle Hurd (Maxine Bludso); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez, Eddie Vaisman, Justin Simien; Neon; 2020)
“A Black experience film whose horror satire is good for a few laughs.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A Black experience film whose horror satire is good for a few laughs, even if the uneven film is muddled. It’s intensely directed by Justin Simien (“Dear White People”) as he searches for comedy in a film he also wants to be taken as serious entertainment. His previous movie “Dear White People” inspired a Netflix series.
Anna (Elle Lorraine) works as a production assistant in 1989 at a popular Los Angeles Black TV musical network named Culture. Anna blends in with her charming Black colleagues. She aspires to produce her own show, but is prevented from doing so by the look of her natural kinky hair. Her ex-model new programming boss is in the process of a reset for the all Black station by hiring whites. The corporate new boss (James Van Der Beek ) is trying to plug into the mass culture accepting to both whites and blacks.
Meanwhile Anna is offered a chance to rise in the station if she can go with the flow and get with the station’s required new look. This means she has to do something about her bad natural hair. Anna complies with the image-obsessed music television industry and gets a painful sew-in-weave from the one-and-only station recommended expert hair stylist, Virgie (Laverne Cox).
If you can accept that absurd and narrow premise you might like a film that I thought was too silly in trying to be provocative and meaningful. Though it speaks to a valid issue of Black women encouraged to confirm to conceptions of beauty (measured on European standards), it can’t stay focused on the issue but turns to camp humor. That Anna’s weave rebels against her and can’t be managed, as the filmmaker reaches back for his quirky comedy to be meaningful. But these scenes might be more juvenile even than a childish Jerry Lewis shtick from the 1950s.
REVIEWED ON 12/23/2020 GRADE: C+