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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Review: Shampoo (1975)

* *

Director: Hal Ashby
Starring: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn

Maybe I’m too young to really “get” Shampoo, or maybe it’s because as a woman I find very little compelling about a man whose life is thrown into chaos because he just can’t keep it in his pants, but I found this movie really lacking. There are some good moments in it, but on the whole I thought it was all surface and no depth.

Warren Beatty stars as George, the premier hairdresser in Los Angeles. He’s in a relationship of sorts with Jill (Goldie Hawn), an actress whose best friend is Jackie (Julie Christie), who used to date George herself. He’s also carrying on an affair with Felicia (Lee Grant), whose husband (Jack Warden) is a power player currently having an affair with the aforementioned Jackie. The story takes place over the course of about a day and a half, beginning the night before the 1968 election and ending after Richard Nixon has been declared the winner. By the time the results are in, George’s love life has effectively blown up in his face after all three of the women in his life end up in the same room together.

As I said before, I don’t find the character of George to be particularly compelling. He wants to open his own shop but can’t get financing for it, and it’s easy to understand why the bank doesn’t think he’s a good risk. Yes, he’s got a lot of clients but he only ever seems to be at work for five minutes at a time before he has to take off chasing after one woman or another, and even when he is at work his romantic entanglements tend to follow him there and disrupt his ability to do his job. He claims that he spends every day listening to women’s problems, but he doesn’t appear to actually hear anything anyone says to him given that Jill has to tell him three times in the space of as many minutes that she might be going to Cairo. He hops from bed to bed, but can’t seem to understand why the women in his life are always pissed off at him. He implies that both Jackie and Jill are whores, but doesn’t think twice about carrying on with Felicia so that she’ll talk her husband into lending him the money to start his business. George is a really weak character, played by Beatty like he’s an unwilling passenger to the whims of his own dick, who sleeps with women less because he wants to and more because they expect him to.

With the exception of Jill, the characters in this movie are difficult to like. We’re supposed to feel sympathy for George but honestly, all he has to do is stop acting like such a dumb ass and his life would be improved tenfold. The only person I felt any sympathy for was Jill, who gets screwed over by pretty much everyone and seems to be the only character capable of feeling anything genuine for anyone else. George says he loves Jackie, but does he really? When Jill finds him and Jackie together, George runs after Jill and then, having lost her, goes back to Jackie. The next morning he proposes to Jackie, but only after he’s been to see Jill, who gives him his walking papers in no uncertain terms.

There are things about the film that almost make it worth watching. The sequence where Jill finds George and Jackie together at a party and he first runs after Jill, then runs back to find Jackie, who has taken off, and runs after her – is well-done, and there’s a sense that the film wants to be about something, about how George’s empty promises to women reflect the empty promises Nixon makes when he’s elected, but ultimately it just doesn’t hold together.

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