Caramel is a new rom-com from Lebanon with all the typical traits of a Queen Latifah comedy set abroad (and with no Queen Latifah). Nadine Labaki (who also wrote and directed the film) stars as Layale, a Christian woman and owner of a beauty salon in Beirut who presides over a colorful cast of characters who gather weekly to gossip about their lives. Although the film has some provocative themes, even for American audiences (a hairwasher's lesbian crush on a client; a woman who considers vaginal reconstructive surgery) most movie critics have found the film a little too conventional, though pleasant. We say, with all of crap out recycled in Hollywood chick-flick after Hollywood chick-flick, it's nice to see a formulaic but foreign film centered around female friendships. Some sweet and bitter reviews after the jump.
The safely sweet:
San Francisco Chronicle, Walter Addiego:
The camaraderie among the women is enjoyable, even if their various woes, and the ways the characters deal with them, have a soap opera feeling. Labaki, who has directed music clips for Arab pop musicians, gets nice performances from her nonprofessional cast.
Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern:
Much of the tension in "Caramel" turns on the problematic status of women in Lebanese society, where liberation is barely skin deep. It's more a symptom of that status than a sign of negligence that Layale refuses to wear a seat belt when she's driving her car. "It suffocates me," she tells a handsome motorcycle cop.
New York Times, A.O. Scott:
It all has the makings of a mild soap opera, or perhaps a Pedro Almodóvar film without camp or kinkiness. And Ms. Labaki is less interested in breaking new ground than in providing her audience the kind of comfort and catharsis that her characters give one another. Which is not to say that "Caramel" is overly soft or sweet.
Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan:
Though it has superficial resemblances to Hollywood product, "Caramel" has the tact and sophistication not to tie things up too tidily for any of its women. Possibilities appear for some but not all of them, and it is not at all a sure thing that any of those possibilities will pan out. All these characters can count on, finally, is that they will be there for one another. The bonds between women, "Caramel" says, are the ones that matter, the ones that last.
The Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore:
Warm-hearted and accessible, it could benefit from good word of mouth in a limited art house run, particularly among audiences who like their rom-coms laced with foreign ingredients.
Salon, Andrew O'Hehir:
"Caramel" is an ode to female bonding — it's a beauty-shop movie, for God's sake! — a celebration of female sensuality and a series of interlocking love stories, and it positively revels in the conventions of those genres. It's a reassuring and delicious film, but in no sense an adventurous one.
Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum:
The kvetches of regulars at a cheery Beirut beauty salon couldn't be more familiar — and that's the slender charm of Caramel, a Lebanese variation on sweetly soapy dramas about Women Who Bond With Wet Hair.
The bitter:NY Post, V.A. Musetto:
Labaki elicits believable performances from her nonprofessional cast, as she depicts a society torn between tradition and unstoppable change. But the script, which Labaki co-wrote with two men, is uneven, fluctuating between poignancy - Layale waiting in vain for her lover to show up for a hotel tryst, for example - and fluff.