Stars: Barry McEvoy, Brian F. O’Byrne, Anna Friel, Colum Convey, Billy Connolly
Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Barry McEvoy
You may not think that a film based in Northern Ireland amidst all the fury of political and religious turmoil could in any way be humorous. But with hairlessness as its theme, you get a very funny film that manages to lace itself around the turmoil rather than getting bowled over by the seriousness of it. Still, kindhearted messages of tolerance and forgiveness do come to light.
The fun begins when the headstrong and out-of-work Colm (Barry McEvoy) gets a job as a barber in the mental institution where his girlfriend Bronagh (Anna Friel) is a nurse. Despite differences in religion, the Catholic Colm immediately hits it off with gabby fellow barber, George (Brian F. O’Byrne), a sensitive Protestant and writer of poetry.
Their days are spent happily cutting hair and making rhyme. But when they learn that one of the new patients (the ever hilarious Billy Connolly) used to run a successful (and the only) toupee business in Northern Ireland before scalping four of his customers, Colm and George seize the opportunity to have buy him out and thus corner the hairpiece market.
Despite having the scalper’s client list, the two discover that selling toupees is not as easy a business as they thought. Finances are tight in the working class neighborhoods they scour and some clients are not beneath stealing a rug right out from under their eyes. Then, an unexpected rival wig shop called “Toupee or Not Toupee” appears, forcing the two to meet unrealistic quotas from the manufacturer in order to stay in business.
The country’s political and religious divisions make for good humor, like when the boys try to sell a hairpiece to a vicar who’ll only buy it if the hair came from a Protestant head or for more serious matters as with the boys at odds with one another over accepting a desperately needed bulk order from the IRA.
Star Barry McEvoy wrote the inspired script from a good base: his own father was a barber and sometime hairpiece salesman. His character’s wacky family makes good fodder for amusement. The film hosts an excellent supporting cast with Des McAleer as the man who wants a toupee but refuses to pay for it and Colum Convey as a hair-challenged member of the IRA. Brian F. O’Byrne as George is especially effective and charming. Oddly, not the kind of film for which Barry Levinson is usually known, but McEnvoy and Levinson have truly made a good pair here.