Caramel Nadine Labaki

Caramel Nadine Labaki
As a Lebanese Steel Magnolias, Caramel is no better or worse than any American version of Steel Magnolias. In one sense, it has the drop on its Yankee counterparts in that it looks good, hasn’t been fobbed off on a schlepper and has, in writer/director/star Nadine Labaki, someone who can be counted on to care about the material. But it’s the same unresolved romantic/family tension, just through a Lebanese filter.

The stories of Beirut women include a beauty salon owner’s unhappy affair with a married man, an about-to-be married hairdresser whose traditional fiancé requires her to somehow un-burst her hymen, an aging woman worried about getting old and a lesbian included for hipness and roundly marginalised.

Labaki (who plays the owner) proves to be a sparkling performer, as do all of the other leads — there’s a punchiness to the material that most lazily made chick flicks would do well to emulate. And it’s not toxic and demeaning in the way Hollywood "women’s pictures” are, because it has no interest in putting its characters in some patriarchally-designated place. But if it’s made with care and humanity, it’s not made with originality, and the crowd-pleasing elements begin to sag by movie’s end.

Au courant without being challenging and "you go girl” without "being man the ramparts,” it’s a thoroughly middling movie that might divert you for a little while but won’t pay the rent in terms of dealing with the emotions at play or the politics into which it dips its toe and then scurries away from, giggling all the way to the shore. Rent it or catch it on cable. (Seville)