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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Pelo Malo (Bad Hair) movie review: how to destroy a child

by MaryAnn Johanson

Pelo Malo Bad Hair green light

A heartbreaking child’s-eye view of the moment when it begins to dawn that the world is going to be unimaginably cruel to a nonconformist.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There is barely any fantasy — any true fantasy — in nine-year-old Junior’s world. He may not realize this, but we see it… like when his game of playing with toy soldiers is accompanied by real gunfire outside in his Caracas housing project. Like how his dream of being a pop singer with “good hair,” his kinky curls blow-dried into sleek straightness, horrifies his mother to the point where her only reaction to the poor kid is contempt and disdain. Granted, Mom (Samantha Castillo) is wildly overstressed, raising two young children on her own and desperately looking for work, but it’s easy to see that she might still be upset over Junior’s (Samuel Lange Zambrano) gentle feyness, so at odds with the macho landscape of their world, even if she were able to relax a bit. Writer-director Mariana Rondón presents this hard world almost exclusively from Junior’s perspective, where he doesn’t understand (at first) why his mother rejects him in favor of his baby brother, who gets all the cuddles and kindness… and where what looks like acceptance to Junior, perhaps, coming from Carmen (Nelly Ramos), mother of his dead father, looks rather more creepy to us. I can’t recall seeing a film that so plainly, and so heartbreakingly, examines how crushing gender expectations can be to those upon whom they do not sit well — see also Junior’s little friend (María Emilia Sulbarán), who is obsessed with beauty contests — right at the moment when it begins to dawn that the world is going to be unimaginably cruel to a nonconformist. What is also plain, and heartbreaking, is the template we see here for crushing a child’s confidence and self-esteem and killing joy and hope in him. Rondón leaves Junior in a place that is unforgettable, brutally sad, and all too real.

Pelo Malo (Bad Hair) (2014)
US/Canada release date: Nov 19 2014 | UK release date: Jan 30 2015

MPAA: unrated
BBFC: rated 15 (strong sex, strong language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Robert Perreault

    Loved ‘Ma Vie En Rose’ and would buy this film in a minute EXCEPT it is not available in English or even subtitled in English. One sad fact is many countries address gender issues as a serious subject in film but in the U.S. they treat it as a source of comedy. There are just as many people in the U.S. struggling to be understood as in other countries but have few sources to voice the real issues. Wonder why that is.

  • It’ll be available on DVD in the US soon, I’m sure.

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