Dir: Paddy Breathnach. US-UK. 2001. 91mins
A large ensemble of talented actors, including Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson and Rachel Griffiths, is totally wasted in the disappointing comedy Blow Dry, written by The Full Monty screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy.
Meant to be a funny satire of an annual British hairdressing championship, Blow Dry is actually a schmaltzy melodrama about the attempts to bring together the four disparate members of one family when the mother is diagnosed with a terminal cancer.
Mixing the same elements that made The Full Monty, Waking Ned Devine and Billy Elliot international hits - a deprived working-class milieu with feisty characters who strive to triumph against all the odds - the end result is a listless, poorly-directed movie that's likely to have a very short theatrical life before finding only a slightly bigger audience in ancillary markets.
As high-concept and crowd-pleasing as The Full Monty was, it proves a tough act to follow for Beaufoy, whose new script is formulaic, contrived and embarrassingly sentimental. Set in the godforsaken town of Keighley, the site for the hair competition, the tale revolves around a dozen stereotypical characters who clash due to both professional and personal animosities.
Central unit consists of barber Phil (Rickman), a former hair champ, and his handsome son Brian (Hartnett), who works at the shop and is eager to enter the contest. Brian practises his craft by playing with the hair of corpses in a morgue, which soon becomes the place where he courts Christina (Cook), the American daughter of the immoral Ray (Nighy), Phil's scheming rival, who brings Christina to serve as a hair colourist.
Phil and Brian are contrasted with Shelly (Richardson), Phil's ex-wife and Brian's mom, who runs a local beauty parlour with her lover Sandra (Griffith), the cause of the marriage break-up. Though their relationship is loving, Shelly can't bring herself to tell Sandra of her fatal illness, which of course the latter learns about, leading to yet another predictably calculated crisis and reconciliation.
The narrative is structured in terms of four rounds ('hairdressing by night', 'total look' and so on), but director Breathnach takes little advantage of the comic possibilities inherent in those situations. He also directs as if he has never heard of anything so vulgar as tempo: Blow Dry plods along monotonously at an elephantine pace.
Things are made worse by the incessant cross-cutting between the potentially camp and colourful hairdressing sequences and the schematic family predicaments. To open up what is basically an oppressively indoor yarn, some scenes are set outdoors, as in the big dramatic act between Phil and former model Sandra who stole his wife from him, with the two sitting inside a discarded bathtub out in the Yorkshire fields.
The mystery is how such tired and uninspired material attracted such top-notch talent as Rickman, who is dull and glum as the bitterly estranged hubby, and the usually lovely Rosemary Harris, here playing the one-note role of Shelly's blind mother. Richardson and Griffiths have some good moments together, though a scene in which the latter appears as a geisha leaves a bad taste politically and cinematically.
Blow Dry is so desperate to be entertaining, that, after disappointing her dad, Christina is shown practising her craft on sheep. And in the end credits, the town's mayor (Clarke) reveals his secret with a passionate Elvis impersonation.
Prod cos: Miramax and Intermedia presentation of a Mirage Enterprises/West Eleven Film production. Dist (US). Miramax. Exec prods: Sydney Pollack, Meryl Poster, Julie Goldstein. Prods: Ruth Jackson, William Horberg, David Rubin. Scr: Simon Beaufoy. Cinematography: Cian De Buitlear. Prod des: Sophie Becher. Ed: Tony Lawson. Music: Patrick Doyle. Main cast: Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Rachael Leigh Cook, Josh Hartnett, Bill Nighy, Warren Clarke