“Bad Hair”: Growing Up Latino, Different, and Rejected

What will happen to Junior, I found myself worrying. Can’t everyone just let him be? Sheila O’Malley, reviewing Bad Hair on rogerebert.com

PELO MALO, aka Bad Hair, written and directed by Mariana Rondón, takes places in a housing project in Caracas. What’s the deal about “bad hair”? It’s that nine-year-old Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano) has the opposite of what he wants. He sets out to accomplish having straight, flattened out hair so he can look good for a school photo.

Mom Marta (Samantha Castillo), a widow who’s unemployed and who has a younger boy as well, struggles with Junior’s mission, which she associates with the possibility of him having gender and/or sexual orientation issues. His hair obsession isn’t the only clue she thinks she’s picking up.

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “Marta reads Junior’s lack of interest in sports and obsession with his appearance as signs that he might be gay. Blaming herself for his supposed effeminacy, she drags him to a doctor, who pronounces him healthy but in need of male role models. Afterward, she forbids him to hang out with a friendly neighborhood teenager who runs a grocery stand.”

From the official film description: “The more Junior tries to look sharp and make his mother love him, the more she rejects him. His paternal grandmother [Nelly Ramos], a witness to this rejection, asks Marta to give her the boy so that he can look after her. Marta refuses and tries to correct her son’s obsession by ‘setting an example,’ a cruel moment which was meant to be a lesson. Junior finds himself cornered, face to face with a painful decision.”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “Marta is unpredictable: she is rough and mean, indifferent and impatient, but on a dime she can suddenly turn tender and caring. Dealing with his mother is like tiptoeing through a landmine, and when she lashes out, Junior recoils, not understanding what he has done. Marta’s most horrible and unforgivable choice comes out of thinking it is what Junior needs.”

The DVD can be purchased via Amazon if not elsewhere. The trailer’s below:

Selected Film Reviews

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “Told in a slow and deliberate manner, with documentary-style realism, ‘Bad Hair’ is not conventional storytelling, but it is all the more effective because of that…Rondón has created a powerful and very human story about a young child’s growing sense of self, and his innocent and baffled reactions to adult resistance and cruelty.”

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “…an uncomfortably accurate depiction of a poignant mother-son power struggle in a fatherless family in which each knows how to get under the other’s skin. The instinctive and volatile characters in this hard little gem of a film have no awareness of the boundary issues so dear to the hearts of contemporary therapists. They have neither the time nor the money for the luxury of intervention. They need all their resources merely to survive.”

Jay Weissberg, Variety: “…(P)erformances are uniformly strong, from Lange’s Junior, struggling with his identity while yearning for his mother’s love, to Castillo’s Marta, wound up and lacking guidance yet unwilling to lower her guard.”

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