Bad Hair (Pelo Malo)

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) Movie Poster Image
Thought-provoking, troubling drama has explicit sex.
  • NR
  • 2013
  • 93 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Positive messages about accepting someone as they are and the good that comes from demonstrating love are shown by negative examples of trying to change someone by belittling, exerting power, threatening, and withholding and even rejecting affection and understanding.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Junior, who's 9, shows a lot of resilience growing up under difficult circumstances. He's verbally mean to his baby brother for reasons the audience can understand, but otherwise he's a good kid at heart. He ultimately makes tremendous sacrifices -- whether for himself or his mother (or both) is debatable -- that show love and a willingness to try to change for someone else. His mother is entirely negative toward Junior but the complete opposite toward the baby. Her struggles and hardships are shown, and she may be doing what she thinks is best, but the film implies she goes about it the wrong way.

Violence

A psychologically disturbing scene shows a light, mildly flirtatious mother-son dance turn sour when the mother becomes more overtly and aggressively sexual; the child (9 years old) becomes confused and frightened. Kids about 9 years old mention rape while playacting. Later they talk with lots of misinformation about rape; for example, the perpetrator has to like you and you have to be pretty.

Sex

Two explicit sex scenes show nudity and bare breasts, thrusting, grunting, and simulated orgasm. One involves a mother insisting that her 9-year-old son watch her have sex with her ex-boss by refusing to let her son close his bedroom door. She makes direct eye contact with her son while she and her boss are naked on the couch, her breasts visible, her legs splayed, and the boss thrusting and grunting. The mother also appears topless while bathing her infant; the baby grabs at one of her breasts. She's seen topless in the shower. Looking at herself in a mirror in a sexy dress, she briefly caresses her thigh.

Language

"Damn," "bitch," "whore," "fag," "pee." An extended scene shows kids dancing to music with lyrics that include "d--k," "bitch," and "f--k" repeated many times.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mother Marta smokes a half-dozen times or so. Background and minor characters smoke. Cigars mentioned.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) is a gritty, painfully sad, very complex Spanish-language drama about a troubling mother-son relationship that explores the difficulty in accepting someone for who they are. Lots of issues to do with sexuality, body image, self-expression, affection, and more are explored at varying levels. Kids about 9 years old mention rape while playacting. Later they talk with lots of misinformation about rape. A psychologically disturbing scene shows a light, mildly flirtatious mother-son dance turn sour when the mother becomes more overtly and aggressively sexual; the child (9 years old) becomes confused and frightened. Two explicit sex scenes show nudity and bare breasts, thrusting, grunting, and simulated orgasm. One involves a mother insisting that her 9-year-old son watch her have sex with her ex-boss by refusing to let her son close his bedroom door. She makes direct eye contact with her son while she and her boss are naked on the couch, her breasts visible, her legs splayed, and the boss thrusting and grunting. The mother also appears topless while bathing her infant; the baby grabs at one of her breasts. She's shown topless in the shower. An extended scene shows kids dancing to music with lyrics that include "d--k," "bitch," and "f--k" repeated many times. Other profanity includes "damn," "bitch," "whore," and "fag."

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What's the story?

Nine-year-old Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano) wishes he could straighten his BAD HAIR in time for his back-to-school photo to be taken. His mother Marta (Samantha Castillo) is afraid that Junior's obsession with straightening is more evidence that he's gay and uses disturbing tactics to ensure that he isn't. At best, she actively dislikes Junior while lavishing affection and attention on Junior's baby brother. At worst, she uses her own sexuality as a weapon against Junior in a war that perhaps shouldn't be fought in the first place and that neither can hope to win.

Is it any good?

This disturbing Spanish-language drama is excellent but not for kids. Director Mariana Rondón gets superlative, powerful performances from both Samantha Castillo as Marta and the young Samuel Lange as Junior, ensuring that their story will stay with viewers for a long time. Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) doesn't attempt to provide answers. Instead, it presents the tragic story of a boy's lost future in a gritty, almost documentary style. And it asks a lot of questions: Why can't Junior accept his curls? Why can't his mother accept Junior? Do they love each other or not? Is she homophobic? Is Junior gay? Does it matter? What about the not-so-subtle messages about body image from a news media obsessed with beauty pageants and reality-show talent contests? Would Junior be better off with his grandmother? How could his mother even do that?

Rondón asks these questions with an unflinching but tender, steady gaze. Mature viewers' hearts will break at Junior's inability (through no fault of his own) to appreciate his own strength and beauty, in every sense. The questions raised are certainly spot-on for teens and adults to think about, but the explicit sex, and Marta's use of sexuality as power, make it suitable for adults only.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sexual content in Bad Hair. How much is OK for teens to see?

  • Junior marches to the beat of his own drum. Are you, or is someone you know, like that, too? Do you feel accepted and loved for who you are? How do you think Junior feels about himself?

  • Why do you think Junior wishes his hair were straight? Why not accept and celebrate his curls? Is there anything about yourself you wish you could change? What's the difference between you and Junior, or are there any differences?

Movie details

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