Nappily Ever After (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): Being herself with her natural hair

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“Nappily Ever After”, which is currently available on Netflix, is a funny and delightful comedy movie about hairdo and self-image. As an Asian guy who has seldom cared about hairdo (I usually prefer crewcut, by the way), I initially observed its story and characters from the distance, but I soon found myself often amused and touched by its heroine’s bumpy struggle toward self-improvement via changing her hairdo, and I eventually came to root for her as watching how she becomes more comfortable with being herself – and her natural hair.

In the beginning, we are introduced to a young African American woman named Violet Jones (Sanaa Lathan), and she tells us a bit about her childhood years during the opening scene. During that time, she was a little shy girl who was mostly fine with her curly hair, but her domineering mother Paulette (Lynn Whitfield) always had her daughter’s hair look less curly just because she thought that made her daughter more presentable to others, and Violet accordingly became quite fastidious about her hairdo and appearance as following her mother’s demands.

At present, everything looks perfect for Violet, who is currently working at an advertisement company. While she is about to finish another successful advertisement project, it seems Clint (Ricky Whittle), a hunky doctor boyfriend who has lived with her for 2 years, is going to propose to her on her upcoming birthday, and her mother, who still visits Violet’s apartment at times for straightening her daughter’s hair as usual, is certainly delighted when she hears about that possibility from Violet.

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However, alas, it turns out that Violet’s assumption was totally wrong. While Clint gives her something during her birthday dinner, it is not what she hopes to receive, and that certainly results in considerable awkwardness among them and other dinner guests. When they later return to her apartment, Violet and Clint come to argue with each other, and Violet comes to learn of how much Clint has been uncomfortable with not being that close to her much. Sure, she is impeccable in many aspects, but she has rarely opened herself to him even during their private time, and he has felt like being stuck in the first date during last 2 years.

After Clint eventually leaves her apartment, Violet becomes devastated and depressed, but, after allowed to have a brief respite from her job, she comes to have a chance to reflect on what is wrong with her life, so she tries to bring some changes into her life. She hangs around with her two close friends more, and she also dyes her hair blonde for a change.

Nevertheless, Violet still does not feel right about herself, and then there comes a moment she decides to do something very drastic while also being quite drunk. Tired of her hairdo which has always required constant care and attention, she promptly shaves herself bald, and she feels much liberated as cutting her hair step by step. As the camera steadily focuses on her face, the sense of joy and relief is palpable on the screen, and we can really feel that she is boldly making her first forward step to being herself.

Of course, Violet’s radically changed appearance surprises others around her, and the movie generates some nice laughs for us during several small comic moments. In case of a humorous scene where Violet is inadvertently invited to a certain type of support meeting, the movie handles this scene with enough seriousness and sensitivity, and the result is not only funny but also touching as Violet comes to discover more confidence for her new appearance.

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Meanwhile, she also finds a new possibility of romance through Will (Lyriq Bent), a hairdresser who has been living alone with his young daughter since his wife left several years ago. Although their initial encounter at his workplace was not exactly pleasant due to his daughter’s unfortunate mistake, Violet comes to care about Will’s daughter after a certain incident at a local mall, and she soon finds herself attracted to Will as spending more time with him. While Will is not exactly ideal in her mother’s view. Violet is willing to go to the next step, and it looks like he also wants that.

In the third act, the movie takes a few predictable narrative turns, but it keeps maintaining its breezy mood, and the adapted screenplay by Adams Brooks, which is based on the novel of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas, continue to provide good moments for Sanaa Lathan and other performers surrounding her. Lathan, who previously appeared in “The Wood” (1999) and “Brown Sugar” (2002), is believable in her character’s gradual personal growth along the story, and she is supported well by notable performers including Ricky Whittle, Lyriq Bent, Lynn Whitfield, and Ernie Hudson, who plays Violet’s sympathetic father who, like his daughter, tries something different which you have to see for yourself.

“Nappily Ever After” is directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, a female Saudi Arabian filmmaker who previously made “Wadjda” (2012). Compared to that small but extraordinary film which is about a young Saudi Arabian girl stubbornly trying to get her own bicycle, “Nappily Ever After” feels relatively conventional, but it is still an engaging female story full of heart and spirit thanks to al-Mansour’s thoughtful and competent direction, and I had a fairly good time on the whole. At this point, both “Nappily Ever After” and “Wadjda” are available on Netflix, and I wholeheartedly recommend you to watch them together someday.

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