Hair Love mixes humor and warmth to illustrate the little touches that bring a family together.
Hair Love is just the tonic to pick you up during a dreary week. Director, writer, executive producer on Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, and former NFL football player (busy guy!) Matthew A. Cherry takes a simple premise – a father struggling to get his daughter’s prodigious hair under control – and sheds a warm light on family, fathers and daughters, and the little moments that bring families together.
Hair Love (2019).
A young black girl wakes up, eager for a special day highlighted on her calendar. The only problem is that her hair has a mind of its own. After trying to style it based on a fashion video, she turns to her father for help. He is daunted by the project, but rolls up his sleeves when he sees how much her special hairdo means to her.
The Unsaid Words.
Hair Love is largely dialogue free. The only voice you hear comes from the hairstyle video. This leaves our characters – a daughter, a father, and a surly cat – to convey the stakes through expression and body language. This “show don’t tell” ethos works fantastically.
The plot begins simply: a big heart on the calendar, a frizzy case of bed-head, and an obviously terrified father. We don’t know what the big day is; we know he is impatient to get going and that she is dead set on looking right for the event. We get hints that somebody is missing from this equation. Crayon drawings of mom abound, but she’s not there…a fact that later takes on larger significance.
Big and Small.
As the short evolves, we get partial insight into the events and stakes, deepening the emotional impact. By keeping it unstated for the early bits, we get to make acquaintance with our leads, and to let their actions speak for themselves without too much melodrama. It’s a slice of life story, conveying cultural touchstones in a personal way. The significance of hairstyle for people of color is shown how it may feel like in everyday life – a natural yet specific part of identity.
As we get accustomed to the familiar routine, the emotional voltage is increased by what isn’t familiar. The father obviously doesn’t do his daughter’s hair. She obviously has someone who does do it regularly. That absence is allowed to deepen, and then Cherry cleverly twists it: we learn more about who the fashion videos, and where the family is going with such trepidation.
I enjoyed Hair Love quite a bit. The animation is fluid and expressive, willing to engage in cartoon silliness while also feeling grounded. You can practically feel the texture to the animation for the little girl’s hair. The musical beats in the piece aren’t overplayed, and they underscore the pacing nicely. Sometimes the pantomime of no dialogue can feel like a hindrance, but in other places it becomes essential to resonance of the piece.
Hair Love pulls of the deft trick of making the specific universal. You don’t have to have waves of uncooperative hair to empathize; you don’t have to be a father or a daughter to recognize the tenderness and apprehension that goes along with the family dynamic. It reminded a bit of last year’s excellent nominee, One Small Step. At the end of the day, you get a warm and poignant comedy with strong emotional heft.