The genre of comedy has a power unlike any other genre in that it can make an entire cinema laugh and unite everyone with laughter. Comedies range from insane parodies of classic stories, satires of the current climate of the world or taking an unlikely subject and turning it on its head. It’s a genre that I absolutely enjoy and cherish, but what about a comedy that makes you think? A comedy that focuses on the changing times from one generation to another underneath the struggle of legacy and pride while also saying what every one in one particular culture is wanting to say, but are afraid to? That’s where Barbershop comes in.
2002’s Barbershop, directed by Tim Story, stars Ice Cube as Calvin Palmer, Jr. who runs the local barbershop on the South Side of Chicago, a man struggling with running the shop that his father gave him. He is considering selling the shop to local loan shark Lester Wallace, played by Keith David, in order to get more money to make ends meet. In the barbershop, Calvin has a variety of co-workers including, but not limited to:
- Ricky Nash, played by Michael Ealy, a former convict with one strike remaining and trying to reform with a steady gig at the shop.
- Jimmy James, played by Sean Patrick Thomas, an educated know-it-all that constantly complains about…
- Issac Rosenberg, played by Troy Graity, who is considered a ‘wigger’ (a white man embracing urban culture) with aspiration of opening a shop of his own.
- Dinka, played by Leonard Earl Howze, an immigrant from Africa who works at the shop longing for the hand of…
- Terri Jones, played by Eve, a young woman struggling with her boyfriend being an ass to her and cheating on her.
- Eddie, played by Cedric the Entertainer, the wise old (and controversial) sage of the group that was best friends with Calvin’s father.
The co-workers live and breathe the shop and do not want to let it go away due to how much the community appreciate it. Also there is a subplot about two thugs stealing an ATM that isn’t really important till the third act, but if you’re curious, it involves Ricky’s cousin JD, played by Anthony Anderson, and his comic foil Billy, played by Lahmard Tate and takes up a lot of the film’s time.
The plot has a lot going on and the film manages to make everything fit in under two hours. This is a hard task and for a comedy to pull it off, it takes guts. Barbershop has a clear agenda to get across poignant commentary and look into the large life of the inner city in a rather small location. Yet, it is the larger than life characters that bring out the central points the film hits out of the ball park.
One of the first points Barbershop delivers is Calvin’s struggle between his own life and continuing the legacy of his father. Think The Lion King if Simba was really great at cutting a fade. Calvin wants to go and make the barbershop bring in something that will make great money come in, so he sets up get rich quick schemes to do so. He wants to benefit his wife with child, but mostly wants something that will make him feel better about himself (i.e. more money and a profit). Upon arrival to the barbershop, Calvin has his mask on to not let his workers know he is in the midst of selling the shop. Of course, this goes to hell due to Lester Wallace showing up personally to make a deal with Calvin to own the shop for a cool $20,000.
Wallace intends to make sure the sign outside always says barbershop, yet he is turning it into a gentlemen’s club that is barbershop-themed. Calvin is turned off by the idea and is pissed at what he did. He decides to confront Wallace face-to-face to get it back, but Wallace tell Calvin he can get it back if he pays double what Wallace paid by the end of the day.
Calvin does not realize this later when Eddie decides to step in on a shave job Ricky is doing to teach the shop a lesson.
This scene is meant for the rest of the crew in the shop due to their lack of culture, in Eddie’s eyes anyway, but it is aimed at Calvin. Calvin is on the outside of the circle watching Eddie make the man’s face as smooth as Gary Coleman, but listening in on Eddie’s words. Eddie speak of the barber as this source of comfort and wisdom, but that the barber of today has no sense of history and demand respect despite not having a reason to achieve that respect.
Calvin runs the shop, but his connection to others beyond on that lacks as throughout the film, Calvin is constantly kicking out people and not having anyone’s personal drama. Yet, as Calvin goes about his day and night, he come across people that truly care about the shop and the work Calvin has done. His wife comes to tell him to get his head straight and he still won’t budge even after his wife calls him out on being selfish. Unfortunately, it is to late and the point really comes in a conversation between Eddie and Calvin outside of the shop.
Eddie shows Calvin that he does not have enough faith in what he is doing for the community. Calvin still complains about him not having enough money aand his father dying broke, but Eddie straight up interrupts him to tell him “Your daddy may have not had a whole lot of money, but he was rich cause he invested in people.” Calvin sees his point after Eddie says that his dad opened the door for anybody to come in for comfort and that himself personally would not have let any of those on staff work for him. Eddie sees the potential in Calvin and Calvin decides to get back the shop.
This involves the gangstas who stole the ATM and the Deus Ex Machina of the rewards money on the ATM if found. Luckily, it was found in Wallace’s chop shop with cops surrounding the place, so Calvin got what he wanted by blackmail. Yet, that is not important as the lesson Calvin learned about his own legacy to uphold and find his passion for the business again.
Barbershop gives the audience something more than just the internal struggle of one’s own legacy in the form of speaking your mind and getting your own voice heard. As a young 10 year old boy, I went to see this movie at the AMC and was blown away by the conversations that where in the movie. It wasn’t because I was offended, but because it felt real and natural. It was also because they weren’t afraid to voice their highly controversial opinions about how they saw the world. Personally, in my Latino culture, my family is very used to voicing their own thoughts on a variety of subjects and Barbershop captured the essence of natural conversation. For example, take the infamous Rosa Parks scene where Eddie lays it all on the line about what she did for the Civil Rights Movement.
He begins the rant by saying he would not say it in front of white people and goes on to talk about why she is not special as many others at the time did the same thing and got thrown in jail for it. According to him, the only reason it got publicize the way it did was due to knowing Martin Luther King, Jr. and being part of the NAACP. It’s a controversial and nearly taboo topic to talk about, but Eddie actually gets his point across rather well. Then Eddie, in the moment, escalates his rant to say Rodney King deserved to get beat, O.J. Simpson did do the crime and deserved the time and eventually saying “Fuck, Jesse Jackson.”
Everyone’s reaction is priceless and everyone tries to get a word in to counter it, yet Eddie is riding high and cannot be brought down. Funny enough, he can get away with it due to the respect. Yet, just like any debate, it can raise too much of a nerd in people and this is shown in the debate about reparation money between Ricky and Jimmy.
Ricky is seen as uneducated by Jimmy thus making Jimmy seem superior. Fortunately, Jimmy gets his own knowledge handed on a silver platter when Ricky delivers a very strong reasons why he doesn’t need the money and could be fine on his own. Jimmy is just stunned by what happened and it shows off that anyone can argue what they believe is true without worry. Others in the shop get into the debate as well to voice their own thoughts providing a safe haven for the true conscience of mind.
Barbershop may be a unlikely subject to point out these examples and maybe other films can do it better, yet it’s a comedy that capture the true essence of real struggle and real culture. It stands the test of time as an important film that many have looked back on, not just for the humor or the star power, but for more than that. There is a true sense of reality and life in it and a true sense of heart within the film that carries throughout, even if it has to get through a couple of subplots to get the point across. It is an underrated joy of a comedy and still holds up. In the end, it’s just another Friendly Film Perspective.