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  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
from Film Forum, 09/19/02

In Barbershop, his directorial debut, Tim Story appeals to our desire for a community and a place "where everybody knows your name." Many Film Forum readers have seen favorite friendly neighborhood hangouts replaced by impersonal, corporate-run, cookie-cutter establishments. The disappearance of such warm, human enterprises makes Barbershop an attractive setting. This strategy has worked well for such successful television sitcoms as Friends and Cheers. More recently, the hit comedy fable Chocolat focused on a small community and its favorite hangout. This approach seems to be working for Story and his talented cast, which includes Ice Cube, Cedrick the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Anthony Anderson, and Troy Garity.

The film's story develops on Chicago's South Side. Calvin (Cube) inherits a barbershop from his father, but lacks enthusiasm for the work. After he sells the business, he struggles with guilt and an increasing understanding of what the place meant to his father and to the neighborhood. There's more to it than cutting hair. The shop just might be a sort of cornerstone of their community. A team of talkative barbers shoots the breeze while they wait for customers, covering all manner of community scandals and dramas. Their conversation is like an art form. Their personalities are big and expressive. Humor lightens every heavy subject. There, folks can find counsel, friendship, and even a second chance.

Religious media critics respond to this week's box office champ in a variety of ways. Some are pleased by the lessons and delight in spending time with these comic personalities. Others (Preview, for example) disregard the film due to the vulgar language of the characters, even though such speech reflects the way many real people express themselves.

But Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) says that the film's portrayal of various immoral behaviors is important to the point of the story. "A large amount of the negative material serves to illustrate positive messages. Crime doesn't pay. Respect is a great equalizer. Racial pride should never eclipse truth and justice. Families mean everything. Hard work is the best — and only way — to truly get ahead. And tradition means far more than your average 20-year-old thinks it does." Isaac concludes by affirming that the film contains "themes of social responsibility, cultural heritage, love for family and respect for self."

"Despite the excessive, mostly light foul language, this movie is not nearly as offensive as other African American movies of late," says Lisa A. Rice (Movieguide). "The protagonist is a good, honest, family man on a genuine search for the purpose to his life. Though there is anti-white racial talk among the men, there is also a great deal of balance amid all of their humor."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) is similarly pleased: "This is no silly, sex-minded comedy to be seen, experienced, and immediately forgotten. It is laugh-out-loud funny to be sure, but with the jokes comes something to stimulate both heart and mind. It's the biggest pleasant surprise I've come across in the theater this year."

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) agrees that Barbershop has much to offer: "The film gives an incisive look at how blacks feel about living in America, which can open doors to positive discussions on how to improve life in our country." But he adds, "Please don't mistake this film as some sort of profound essay on black life. Forced and often silly, the subjects and characterizations have all the subtlety of barber's joke."

Likewise, Anne Navarro (Catholic News) says it is "flawed by silly stereotypes and predictability, yet manages to be endearing as it touches on racism, fellowship, and the black man's place in society."

Mainstream critics are divided over whether the film is worthwhile or forgettable. Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) writes, "The barbers … seem like TV stereotypes waiting for more than one note to play. Final verdict: You've seen it all before." But Mary Ann Johanson (Flick Filosopher) calls it "a lovely little film about family and community pride and friendship, one that pokes gentle fun at stereotypes while never forgetting the real people behind a seeming cliché. All of them are perfectly attuned to what makes their characters more than what they appear on the surface, and all of them effortlessly make us love them, flaws and all."

from Film Forum, 09/26/02

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) is cheering this week's box office champion, Barbershop. He writes, "The movie has been marketed as a comedy, and it is genuinely funny. But much of Barbershop's humor comes from the situation instead of one-liners. It's the laughter of recognition, as we see ourselves portrayed on screen. It's a humor that builds community, as opposed to the insult—or humiliation—driven comedy we typically see. The movie is also surprisingly clean. With any movie that might be successful, there's already talk of a sequel. That's something I would welcome. These are wonderful characters with interesting stories. Let's have more of that."