Any of you unsure about this should remember that we need to have a good time with our ridiculous horror sometimes.
Bad Hair is such a strange piece of text. Containing pieces of Blaxploitation, horror comedy, and 80s pop music video, the new film from Justin Simien is perhaps less on-point than it wanted to be but fun enough to function anyway.
Our setting is 1989. Anna Bludso (Ella Lorraine) is an assistant at Culture, a TV station heavily featuring black artists and on-camera talent. Her mentor, Edna (Judith Scott), is forced out in favor of former supermodel Zora (Vanessa Williams), brought in to reinvent the station for the upcoming 90s. Zora quickly begins asserting her dominance and aggressive behavior, weirdly pressuring people into getting weaves like hers in order to cater to more a wider (read: whiter) audience. After making a plea to upscale stylist Virgie (Laverne Cox), Anna is given a weave and her new hairdo starts turning heads and moving her up while her coworkers (Lena Waithe and Yaani King) are shunned. The hair she received, however, has a craving beyond the advancement Anna wants and those tender tendrils are hungry!
Look, this shit’s weird. Simien has gone to a lot of effort to wear his influences on his sleeve, from the grainy texture edited into the film so that it looks like a VHS to the slippery mixture of minimal CGI and practical hair effects (yeah, you heard me). It’s era-reverential down to the music videos shot for the film, which look appropriately like something your Gen X parents watched towards the end of high school.
My issues pop up with how much is stuffed into Anna’s world. She’s got the job, a family that doesn’t respect her dreams (all of whom have attained doctorates and are versed in black myths/legends), she’s got the ex boyfriend that always treated her like shit, there’s the drama with the former mentor, and on top of all of that we’ve got killer hair straight out of a Simpsons Halloween episode. There’s fat to be trimmed but Simien has worked hard to make sure it’s at least fun to watch and unfortunate to consider. Hell, we even have Anna’s boss Grant Madison (James Van Der Beek) trying to speak to his black employees while underpaying them and exploiting their ideas for profit. There’s just…a lot going on here. During all of this the audience is given so much of the evil magic hair stuff that it becomes our main focus, and it’s clearly the stuff Simien had the most fun with because he leaves his sociopolitical ideas by the wayside to keep playing with it.
The whole movie is tonally unwieldy, but it’s so damn fun that it winds up working for the most part. I wanted the diverging plotlines to justify the length of the film and they didn’t. That said the hair kills some scumbums and the effect of it is nasty and I love it.
Bad Hair is currently streaming on Hulu.