Chris Rock's first shot at a documentary was spurred on by a simple question his daughter asked: "Daddy, why don't I have good hair?" Good Hair is Rock's quest to find out what that is, and why we — men and women, black and white — care so much.
It's not a race relations angle as much as the trailer makes it seem, but rather an investigation into the phenomenon his two young daughters are growing up into: that straight European hair is what's desirable, beautiful, and worth lots of money and pain to get.
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As a documentarian, Rock excels at putting his subjects at ease, and his experts run the gamut. There are African-American women (particularly actresses like Nia Long and Eve), who can report their feelings firsthand about their hair and the extra pressure from Hollywood they endure to conform. Ice T is hilarious whether he's talking about silicone or wearing curlers in his hair for mugshots. Rock even gets Maya Angelou and Al Sharpton to deliver some of the documentary's biggest laughs. Yes, that's the kind of doc this is — one in which a political figure can make the momentous occasion of lobbying for Martin Luther King Jr. Day into a knee-slapping anecdote.
Watching a doc with as many one-liners as a Judd Apatow flick, I left wondering why more comedians don't make documentaries. Then again, Rock shows that he's green as a nonfiction filmmaker when he initiates conversations only to abruptly drop them. There is a lot to be said for black women striving for straight hair in a cultural context, and Rock raises this issue, but doesn't make a strong point about it. Particularly frustrating is Rock's discovery that most of the human hair sold as weaves in the US comes from India; specifically, from worshipers in India who sacrifice their hair to God in a ritual called Tonsure. Rock shows the Tonsure ceremony and the hair removal, but stops short of questioning what I think is a gross offense.
That's not to say Rock doesn't have some major revelations; he exposes the harms of sodium hydrochloride, also known as chemical relaxer (street name: "creamy crack"). His tenaciousness at that issue makes me wish he'd delved further into the other important matters of the movie.
On the whole, though, this is a solid effort for a first documentary, and it's surprisingly weighty subject matter. When you might think that he's gone a bit too far from his own point of reference, he brings it back to why he's looking at "good hair" in the first place —for his daughters. From salons in Beverly Hills to barber shops in Compton, Rock makes you laugh while opening your eyes to a hairy social subject.
Photos courtesy of Roadside Attractions