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'Blow Dry': Bad Style

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2001


    'Blow Dry' Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardon, Rachel Griffiths and Josh Hartnett in "Blow Dry."
It's stylists like those in "Blow Dry," a new dramedy about the National British Hairdressing Championship, that make me glad for my Conair Deluxe Home Haircut Kit.

The reigning title-holder, a haughty, preening bloke named Ray Robertson (veteran comic Bill Nighy), wears face glitter and a pompadour shellacked into place with a pint of Aqua Net. Two of his equally foppish rivals (Peter McDonald and Michael McElhatton) sport mullets, for God's sake – short, permed and bleached blond on top, long, dark and scraggly in the back.

And these looks are supposed to inspire confidence when you're about to get your flattop butch-waxed?

Okay, so the film is set in England, a land whose contributions to haute cuisine and fashion are something called bubble and squeak and tweed knickers. Maybe that explains why fallen champ Phil Allen (Alan Rickman) has left the high-flying hair circuit to run a no-nonsense barber shop in the small town of Keighley in Yorkshire. "Short back and sides, and you're out on your own," is his motto.

Or maybe it's the fact that his ex-wife and former partner Shelly (Natasha Richardson) ran off 10 years ago and left him for his one-time hair model Sandra (Rachel Griffiths). Yep, that would do it. Phil has never forgiven Shelly, and the two haven't spoken in a decade.

When the 2000 championship comes to Keighley – a sleepy burg in sheep country where, by the way, both Shelly (with lover Sandra) and Phil (with maternally estranged son Brian, played by Josh Hartnett) run clip joints – Shelly decides to dragoon her family into entering as a team. This out-of-left-field decision, of course, is made for old time's sake and the fact that she's got terminal cancer.

Come again?

Look, I said it was a dramedy, didn't I? Director Paddy Breathnach, who made the quirky Irish sleeper "I Went Down," and writer Simon Beaufoy, who penned the overrated "The Full Monty," blend pathos (Shelly whips off her wig!) and high jinks (Ray slips trick combs into his rivals' tool bags!) with mixed success.

"The story of the Allen family is so emotional," Breathnach is quoted as saying in the film's press kit, "and the story of the hair competition is so funny and campy and light – I was always looking for the ways in which these two feelings could blend." The fact is, Paddy, that they don't, by and large. On the one hand, the pathos does keep the camp from getting out of hand (see the similar-themed "The Big Tease"), while the camp keeps the pathos from descending to the level of some disease-du-jour TV movie. On the other hand, it's neither funny enough nor affecting enough to really register on either scale.

On the positive, if somewhat politically correct, side: Although filled with fey, flamboyant characters, the stereotype of the gay hairdresser seems to have been meticulously expunged (even the queeniest, most mincing characters are depicted as being raving heterosexuals). The only overtly gay characters are Shelly and Sandra, who are thankfully shown to be a (mostly) happy, if boringly well-adjusted couple.

"Blow Dry" (R, 91 minutes) – Contains obscenity and brief nudity.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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