bad hair, vanessa williams
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Derrick Dunn

Bad Hair mixes eighties R&B and social satire

Filmmaking auteur Justin Simien takes on the horror genre for sophomore directorial effort in Hulu’s Bad Hair. The film is set in 1989 and centers on Anna (Elle Lorraine). As a child, she had a traumatic experience with a relaxer and has sworn off the hair care product. Anna has spent the last four years working as a production assistant at a Culture (a creative take on the heydays of BET).

The ratings start to slip, so slick-talking network head Grant Madison (James Van Deer Beek) recruits former supermodel Zora (Vanessa Williams). Naturally, Zora sees potential in Anna but bluntly informs her that she needs to change her look to succeed. Wanting to make it, Anna visits hairstylist Virgie (Laverne Cox), who gives the unsuspecting client a long beautiful weave. Naturally, Anna steps her game up and has new confidence in every facet of life. Still, little does Anna know her new look has a mind of its own, with evil intentions to boot.

Following her supporting role as Trina on the hit series Insecure, Elle Lorraine makes an excellent leading debut in Bad Hair. Portraying a character with creative ideas, Lorraine is one to watch. During her opening scene, where she interviews for a new position, is something that anyone who’s attempted to get a job in any facet of entertainment can relate to.

I love that the film’s director Justin Siemen used a gorgeous black woman for the lead who is naturally beautiful and talented. It’s no secret that colorism is an issue in the entertainment world, and Siemen delivers his message with a delicate tact. The director even finds time to touch on cultural assimilation and cultural appropriation in the form of James Van Der Beek’s Grant Madison. Who casually mentions he spent his summer working at the Apollo and hanging out with Teddy Riley.

Bad Hair also boasts an impressive supporting cast. Following his exceptional leading role performance in this past summer’s 2 Minutes of Fame, comedian Jay Pharaoh continues to show he’s much more than an impressionist. Pharaoh portrays Julius, a ladies man/VJ who has a history with Anna and is one of the Network’s stars. Eighties babies will easily spot the references that Siemen was going for in his creation of Julius’s character.

I also enjoyed Vanessa Williams’s portrayal of Zora, who is somewhat of an antagonist. William’s is having a great portraying an urban eighties version of Miranda Priestly. There’s also solid supporting work from Blair Underwood as Anna’s uncle specializes in African folklore. Judith Scott, who portrays Anna’s mentor. Also, be on the lookout for brief cameos from R&B singers Usher and Kelly Rowland.

Given that the film takes place in the eighties, you know music plays a big part. Any film that can find a way to use Guy’s Piece of My Love deserves a gold star. Kudos to the film’s composer Kris Bowers for conducting a spooky score and nailing the eighties New Jack Swing and R & B sound. Credit must also go to Siemen, who wrote some of the film’s catchy tunes. I would love to see the duo reunite for a New Jack Swing comedy in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap.

For the most part, I generally enjoyed Bad Hair. However, during the film’s third act, when Siemen turns up the camp factor, some may find the movie over the top. Yes, the film’s kills are campy, and Siemen uses practical effects as opposed to CGI, which is always great to see. Sadly, while characters such as Lena Waithe’s, Brook-Lynne shine with razor-sharp wit, I would’ve liked to see that the entire film. Perhaps if Siemen had eliminated the horror aspect and weaved the whole movie around the personification of beauty in the entertainment world, the final product would be much more substantial.

Nevertheless, with its nostalgic feel and callbacks to BET’s Bob Johnson era, I do recommend checking out Bad Hair.

Final Grade B

Bad Hair is streaming on Hulu now.

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