Published Feb 21, 2008As 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, hasnt 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 its the same unresolved romantic/family tension, just through a Lebanese filter.
The stories of Beirut women include a beauty salon owners 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 theres a punchiness to the material that most lazily made chick flicks would do well to emulate. And its not toxic and demeaning in the way Hollywood "womens pictures are, because it has no interest in putting its characters in some patriarchally-designated place. But if its made with care and humanity, its not made with originality, and the crowd-pleasing elements begin to sag by movies end.
Au courant without being challenging and "you go girl without "being man the ramparts, its a thoroughly middling movie that might divert you for a little while but wont 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)