“Bundles” is a cute, sassy and scruffy indie dramedy about women — especially Black women — and “good hair,” what they’ll go through to get it and how some folks figure out an illegal way to feed that need.
And then this light little microbudget movie goes all serious, with extreme consequences, and this promising picture goes straight to hell. Off a cliff, look-out-below and let’s watch some folks get murdered as we do in a sort of “Whose idea WAS this?” fiasco that is almost stupefying to behold.
Co-directors Ryan Jordan and Jeffrey Leslie and screenwriter Maurice Hill had the good sense to borrow Spike Lee’s “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop” backdrop, set it in a high school, salon and barbershop of Washington, D.C. with young women mugging other women to snip off their long locks and re-sell them as weaves, extensions and wefts (“bundles”) for fun and profit. But they lost the thread when they took that goofy notion and introduced street gang violence, turning the third act into a bloodbath.
It starts as a high school prank, a bit of revenge for dark-skinned-and-touchy-about-it Morgan (Yavonna Harris), whose mouthy, lunchroom “dozens” duel with her former Latina pal Maria (Marissa Arguijo) escalates beyond “burnt-ass face” to “Andale, ho!” and leaves Morgan in tears, ruining her perfectly-made-up class photo face.
Her hairdresser older sister Jackie (Tanisha Cardwell), Jackie’s friend Tiff (Alexis Jacquelyn Smith) and ready-to-rumble goddess-pal Vick-short-for-Victoria (Naysa Young) react to this “Code Red Morgan” with a plan to “get” Maria.
They tase her, hack off a hunk of her hair, and realizing what they have, package it for resale. Does $1700 for long blonde extensions (Jackie dyes it) sound like a fair offer?
“Per gram, hair is worth more than marijuana!”
The quartet has found a way to quick cash “without stripping or selling ass,” so they go into business, tasing and shearing Arabic, Asian, African-American and Latina (and Latino) hair all over The District.
“If I was racially insecure, I would want this s— for myself!”
The TV coverage of women hysterical at the violation of it all is just over-the-top enough to be funny.
There’s snappy banter, with the occasional awkward(unpolished novice-actress line-reading, is funny in these scenes — strong, mouthy women putting down catcallers, gossiping in the beauty parlor, menfolk joking about the gang that’s “scalping” women all over DC, the cops irked by the lack of leads in this crime wave of “pranks.”
And then a line is crossed, an Asian street gang gets involved, and any teachable-moment/guilt-and-redemption good vibes vanish.
It is astonishing how off-key “Bundles” goes, and how badly the violence is introduced into this light dramedy, and how grimly and poorly-acted that violence plays out.
Did the filmmakers not workshop this? Did they not invite trusted friends to watch the dailies and warn them off this wrong turn?
More’s the pity. They were onto something until they weren’t.
Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Yavonna Harris, Naysa Young, Marissa Arguijo, Alexis Jacquelyn Smith, Kevin Tan and Tanisha Cardwell
Credits: Directed by Ryan Jordan and Jeffrey Leslie, scripted by Maurice Hill. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:36