Broad in more ways than one, the colorfully styled blue-collar comedy “The Hairdresser” is German helmer Doris Doerrie’s first outing with someone else’s script. Written by Laila Stieler (“The Policewoman”), this likable tale of an obese, out-of-work Berlin hairstylist with heaps of gumption and a positive attitude received a Berlinale Special gala in advance of its upcoming theatrical rollout in Germany. With much of the humor dependent on wordplay and Berlinerisch accents, it will probably prove commercial only in German-lingo territories, but should receive plus-size love from the many international fests where Doerrie has a following.
Boasting the theme that in life, as in beauty, it’s not one size fits all, the screwball narrative unfolds in extended flashback as chatty coiffeuse Kathi Koenig (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) recounts her past to a client.
Newly separated, Kathi returns to the working-class Marzahn neighborhood in Berlin’s former East where she grew up, with sulky teen daughter Julia (Natascha Lawiszus, hitting all the right notes) in tow. The two move into a tiny apartment in a socialist-era high-rise where the elevator is constantly on the blink.
Sent by her local job center to fill a vacancy at an upscale salon in the modern Eastgate mall complex, Kathi faces one of the many indignities she suffers because of her weight. The snooty owner (Maren Kroymann) tells her, “What we sell is beauty, and you’re not beautiful, my dear.”
Annoyed but undeterred, Kathi decides to open a competing salon directly opposite. Here, what at first seemed a fairly predictable story starts to take some eccentric byways, as the path to achieving her dream meanders through a stint as a mobile hairdresser in a senior center and an unlikely turn as a people smuggler.
Displaying, as always, a finely honed visual sense, director Doerrie finds clever ways to exploit physical comedy throughout, although the number of times it comes at the expense of Kathi’s size may seem a tad mean-spirited. Nevertheless, the pic also features many shots of protag in her birthday suit — including a sex scene — defiantly making the point that in spite of our size-obsessed culture, big is beautiful, too.
Full of warmly conceived oddball characters, Stieler’s screenplay recalls Doerrie’s own writing. Script also includes some spot-on jabs at Teuton bureaucracy.
The pic belongs to Schmeide (wearing extra padding), with her fine comic timing and way with an aphorism. Appearing late in the tale, Kim Ill-Young makes a strong impression as a helpful Vietnamese illegal who does some heavy lifting and boosts Kathi’s confidence.
As usual with Doerrie’s work, bright, cheerful craft credits are essential to the package. An amusing “hairdressers’ ballet” under the end credits provides a final bonus.