An ensemble romantic comedy set in a beauty parlor? But wait, it’s a Beirut beauty parlor, where the vicissitudes of modern womanhood mean something a little different from what American moviegoers might expect (and, quite reasonably, dread). The really too-easy thing would be to make a movie of Lebanon as man’s world of war and violence. Writer-director-star Nadine Labaki, in her feature debut, has a more feminist agenda, which should not be feared as a Feminist Agenda. Her presence is appealing, partly for its toughness, and the movie accordingly registers more as poignant than cloying (caramel seems less sweet, for instance, when used to rip out unwanted body hair). Labaki hasn’t revolutionized moviemaking by any stretch, but she marshals her sudsy plot with urgency, momentum and restraint.

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