Salons and barber shops, with their bitchy gossip, rotating cast of customer-characters and general jokey atmosphere are one of the most popular settings for comedies, no matter what culture you’re in.
The Brazilian “A Cut Above” centers around a Rio de Janeiro “favela” (working class neighborhood) shop, like so many in the movies “about to be closed,” and the efforts of a just-graduated teen son to save it.
It’s a shambolic film that bops about, parades through too many characters and far outstays its welcome, sticking around for a solid half hour past its dramatic climax. But it’s worth a look just to see favela life that isn’t depicted as an impoverished, violent tragedy but as a scrappy village of friends, competitors and underdogs all looking to get by.
Lucas Penteado is our talk-to-the-camera narrator, Richardsson, a cinematic trick that underscores how much this Rio lad looks like an “Everybody Hates Chris” era Tyler James Williams.
He sings the praises of the place, says “We all take care of each other” and then proceeds to show us how that might or might not be true.
His Mom (Solange Couto) has long run Saigon de Beleze, a beauty parlor that has seen better days. His dad (Serjão Loroza) died years ago, but appears to Richardsson — in a bright orange suit, a playful spirit who might intervene and guide him. Only he never really does.
His sister (Juliana Alves) is a college coed and a campus activist who, like his mother, expects Richardsson to matriculate.
And the gorgeous classmate he crushes on (Rebecca) kind of expects that, too, even though she’s involved with Cheese Curd, an about-to-break-big rapper.
Mom’s salon has lost its cachet to bombshell Greice Kelly’s (Hah!) place across the street. Greice (Jennifer Dias) is her own gorgeous best ad for her salon. Greice and Mom’s landlord are scheming to evict Mom and her two kids from Saigon because the rent is overdue.
And Richardsson has to decide, pretty much right now, his course for life. Law? Business? Cutting hair? Mom is sure a visit to a Santaria conjure woman will help him pick a career, but all she advises is that he buy a chicken and look to “Feathers” for guidance.
Three writers and co-directors Rodrigo França and Letícia Prisco pack the screen to its very edges with this colorful preacher, that old flame of Mom’s, customers, relatives, favela “militia” gangsters and the like. They don’t do much with any of them.
Try as they might, they can’t keep us from seeing — via Richardsson’s steady insistence — that he might be the “answer” to Mom’s money problems. Want to bet the word “viral” will enter into that? So they keep throwing characters at the screen to distract us.
It’s all good-natured enough (in Portuguese, or dubbed into English) if rarely — if ever — laugh-out-loud funny.
Rating: TV-MA, profanity, inuendo
Cast: Lucas Penteado, Solange Couto, Juliana Alves, Rebecca, Serjão Loroza and Jennifer Dias
Credits: Directed by Rodrigo França and Letícia Prisco, scripted by Marcelo Andrade, Anderson França and Silvio Guindane. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:31