“Barbershop” is an unassuming ensemble comedy with a surprisingly gentle and heartfelt center. It is impossible not to be charmed by it.
It all takes place on one day as Calvin (Ice Cube), under a lot of financial pressure, decides to sell his family’s barbershop to the local loan shark and then spends the rest of the day trying to raise the money to buy it back. Meanwhile, two other guys from the neighborhood have stolen an ATM machine, and they spend their day hiding it from the police and trying to break it open.
That’s the plot. But this movie is not about the story. It is about the characters and the community. And, as Calvin learns, that’s what life is all about, too. The barbershop plays a central role in the life of the community, a place where people gather to exchange news and views and just enjoy each other’s company. Calvin has some sense of this when he makes the loan shark promise not to change it. But after the deal is done, the loan shark tells him he will keep it the same only on the outside. He plans to turn it into a “gentlemen’s club.”
As the day goes by, and Calvin’s hopes for raising the money dim, he and the audience are treated to the pleasures of conversation will make you wish you could wander into the barbershop and join in.
Cedric the Entertainer plays Eddie, the irascible, seen-it-all-and-knows-it-all senior barber. Rap star Eve plays Terri, who seems equally concerned by her cheating boyfriend and her missing apple juice. A college student (Sean Patrick Thomas) likes to show off his knowledge and brag about his plans for the future. A two-time loser named Ricky (Michael Ealy) has been given a chance at an honest job, but he is immediately suspected in the ATM theft. A Nigerian immigrant named Dinka (Leonard Howze) is trying to learn his way in America (and let Terri know that he likes her). And a white barber (Troy Garrity) is trying to be accepted by the black employees and customers.
Calvin sees that the barbershop is a place where people can find something to be proud of. He has given Ricky a chance at a job and he gives another young man a haircut to give him confidence for an important job interview. Ultimately, Calvin learns that the barbershop has given him something to be proud of, something he will want to pass on to the child he and his wife are expecting as it was passed on to him by his father.
It is great to see Ice Cube in a role that gives him a chance to show what a fine actor he has become. All of the performances are marvelous, with the give and take of the barbershop conversation playing like a series of great jazz riffs. The slapstick story of the ATM thieves is just a distraction (though it helps to tie things up at the end). We want to be where the characters want to be – in the barbershop.
Parents should know that the movie has mature material, including references to adultery and some strong language, including the n-word. Some comments about early civil rights leaders have been very controversial, even prompting calls that they be edited out of the movie. Parents should know that the comments are made by one character and objected to by the other characters, and they may spark the interest of younger viewers to learn more about the people they have heard about in school. In fact, Rosa Parks was not the first person arrested for refusing to give up a seat reserved for whites, but it was her case that led to the historic Montgomery bus boycott. The discussion of her role may lead to a very worthwhile family conversation about the fact that the civil rights movement — and Ms. Parks’ involvement — was far more complex and extensive than they might think after reading one of the “Rosa was tired” books developed for children.
Families who see this movie should talk about the places that serve as the center of their own communities. Where do people go to see each other and find out what is going on? Where do people go when they need a second chance? Where do they go to hang out and talk about whatever comes into their minds? What do you think about the way everyone treated Isaac? Was it fair? Why did he want to be there when no one seemed to want him? Why do you think people who heard about the movie got so upset over Eddie’s comments?
People who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another movie with great scenes of people just hanging out and talking, “Diner.” They will also enjoy Ice Cube’s fine performances in “Boyz N the Hood” and “Three Kings” (all for mature audiences).