Thursday, 25 March 2010

I Do Barbara Rush.

I'm not quite sure I understand the allure of Warren Beatty as an uber-sex symbol of the 1970s. I mean, sure, he's not ugly, but why did people fall over themselves to get into bed with him? Power and money would have something to do with it, I'm sure, but still...

Shampoo, produced by Beatty and written by him and Robert Towne of Chinatown fame, is another of the New Hollywood films of the 1970s, directed by Hal Ashby. Beatty also stars as hairdresser George, not gay as one always hopes their hairdressers to be, putting him in a position where he can sleep with pretty much any woman he wants - and he does. He's in a relationship with budding actress and bimbo Jill (Goldie Hawn), and having an affair with Felicia (Lee Grant.) At the same time he is trying to set up his own salon to escape the clutches of his nagging employer, and to this end goes to Felicia's husband, who is interested in investing in the new venture thanks to the support of his wife. While meeting with the man, Lester (Jack Warden), he discovers that Lester also has a mistress - Jackie (Julie Christie.) George and Jackie have previously had a relationship, and Lester's interest in George's business creates some very tricky situations for the younger man, not helped by his rabid sexuality that even sees him bed Felicia and Lester's young daughter Lorna (Carrie Fisher in her feature film debut.)

All of this confusion leads George to begin to assess his sexual looseness and crave the simplicity of stability. After George, Lester, Jackie and Jill all end up at an excessive party together and Lester and Jill catch George and Jackie going at it on the floor, George seems to realise that it is indeed Jackie that he wants, but his proposal to her comes too late - Lester has left Felicia and is taking Jackie away so the two of them can live happily ever after, leaving our protagonist alone and despondent.

The film is set in the late 1960s, and the sexual liberation of the period is front and centre. Everyone seems to be having sex with everyone - it gets hard to keep up. The script is great, not holding anything back as it delves into the desires and beastial urges of both man and woman. Beatty was a little underwhelming, seemingly confused through the entire film, not really allowing his character any strength, instead trying to muster up sympathy from the viewer for his unfortunate predicament whereby he is desirable to every woman who comes across his path - boohoo, poor George. Hawn proves she can play the bimbo, something she has done many times since, and Christie as always is sublime. Grant won an Oscar for her portrayal, which seems a little odd as I think she is one of the less memorable characters, but oh well.

All in all, it's an entertaining little romp with beautiful production design (though maybe that's just a love of the way people and spaces were dressed in the 1960s...) that somehow falls short of being the masterpiece of sexual freedom and the 70s comedown that it so desperately wants to be. 3.5 stars.

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