Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blow Dry (2001)

Last night I had planned to watch Juno, the movie written by a former reporter for the Minneapolis weekly City Pages. It was my third try at this movie -- I'd already sent back one unplayable disc, had encountered problems with the replacement as well, but thought I'd clean the DVD and give it one more try. No soap! Not even lens cleaner could help the badly scratched disc, so I gave up and used the Watch Instantly feature on Netflix. Coincidentally, I chose another movie with Minneapolis connections, Blow Dry (2001). Although I didn't realize it until I started watching, the juvenile leads in Blow Dry both attended some of the same schools in Minneapolis that my kids did. Josh Hartnett was a couple of years ahead of Cordeliaknits at South High School, and Rachael Leigh Cook was a classmate of hers at Clara Barton Open School (K-8).

I didn't choose the film for these connections, but for the theme and one of the stars -- Alan Rickman, who's definitely on my Top Ten (Male) Actors list. The theme, as I deduced from the synopsis, was one of my favorites -- "depressed/oppressed working class people find fulfillment and self-respect through art." Some other examples of this theme would be The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Greenfingers, and perhaps Billy Elliot. In this case, the art is superfancy, competitive hairdressing.

Briefly, the plot: the British National Hairdressing Championships are to be held in a small Yorkshire city, where this is a really big deal (at least for the Mayor). Ray Robertson (Bill Nighy) is a London stylist who is going for the Triple Crown of hairdressing and will do almost anything to get it. Among the local residents are some old acquaintances and competitors of Ray's: Phil (Alan Rickman), his ex-wife Shelley (Natasha Richardson), and their erstwhile model and now Shelley's partner, Sandy (Rachel Griffiths). They used to be a team, but haven't competed in ten years, since Shelley and Sandy ran away together the night before a big competition. Now, Phil and their son Brian run a simple barbershop, and Shelley and Sandy have a salon, A Cut Above. Brian also moonlights cutting hair at the local funeral parlor. Rachael Leigh Cook comes in as Robertson's daughter Christina, over from the States and reconnecting with her childhood friend Brian.

Shelley and Brian, for reasons of their own, decide to participate in the competition and for much of the film, try to persuade Sandy and Phil to help. Meanwhile, Robertson is trying every underhanded trick he can think of -- but Phil is wise to his ways.

Netflix characterized Blow Dry as a comedy, and there are certainly many comic scenes, primarily involving Cook and Hartnett. But one could also make a case for calling it a drama; don't go in expecting nothing but laughs.

The theme I wasn't expecting to find, based on the brief synopsis provided, was another of my favorites; I might call it "the triumph of the non-traditional family." Through the love of their art, some much-needed honesty, a lot of understanding, and sheer good-heartedness, at the end of the film the characters have formed a family where there wasn't one before. Excellent performances were turned in by all concerned -- I didn't at all connect the character of working-class Shelley with the well-connected, classically-trained Natasha Richardson. And yes, Sisterfilms -- I thought even Josh Hartnett did a good job, and although he mightn't sound Yorkshire to a Yorkshireman, he sounded Yorkshire to me.

I'd recommend this film quite highly. It's rated R, primarily for a couple of brief scenes which might embarrass young teens (or their parents anyway), but there's also a good message about family that could lead to some good parent-child discussions, so parents of middle teens should consider it for a family movie night. The treatment of the lesbian couple is neither prurient nor does it stereotype, and that was another point in Blow Dry's favor.


  1. Well, I decided that, after your fervent praise this morning, I had better watch this on instant play, too. I liked it (yes, even the dreaded Josh Hartnett - though how it's plausible for the son of two champion hair stylists to have those bangs and a uni-brow I'll never understand)

    I agree that it's a feel good movie with a lot to offer. Also, what were the scenes you thought worthy of the R rating? I only found one and a half (and the half only if no one's ever talked to your children about...ehem, grooming elsewhere).

    Nice review!

  2. Well, Rachel Griffiths IS supposed to be naked under the body paint at the end of the competition. I think there was probably some bad language, but I don't think that was it. I certainly hope it wasn't Griffiths and Richardson kissing!