Acclaimed Brit (and one Aussie) actors meet American teen idols in “Blow Dry,” and with that demographic-spanning cast plus the art-chic labels of Miramax and “from the writer of ‘The Full Monty’,” it seems surprising that the hairdressing dramedy only received a very limited release and little to no promotional push. As it turns out, it’s only fitting–not because the film is a disaster that deserves to be swept under the rug, but that the half-hearted release mirrors the efforts put in by nearly everyone involved.
The exception to this are three of the lead performers. As Shelly, a hairdresser secretly braving a battle with terminal cancer, Natasha Richardson has no trouble creating a delicate yet strong-willed and sympathetic character. Shelly is long estranged from barber Phil (Alan Rickman), but she turns to him for help when she wants to enter the British hairdressing championships, which happen to be taking place in their small town of Keighley. After the usual initial trepidation, he joins up even though it means working with Sandra (Rachel Griffiths), the model for whom Shelly left him all those years ago.
This domestic plotline, also involving Shelly and Phil’s son Brian (Josh Hartnett, using a surprisingly believable accent), is played almost exclusively for (mildly affecting) drama, which clashes against the much lighter tone director Paddy Breathnach creates for the rest of the film. There is a young love subplot involving Brian and Christina (Rachæl Leigh Cook), the American daughter of Phil’s archrival Ray (Bill Nighy), who has plans to rig the context. While those subplots are at least somehow connected to the main story, the same cannot be said of the campy and altogether irritating thread involving a bitchy model (Heidi Klum) who carries on an affair with the brother–and partner–of her hairdresser husband. The only apparent reasons why this plotline is even included is (1) to put a supermodel in the cast; and (2) to throw in some gratuitous nudity to get an R rating.
Even with Oscar-nominated “Full Monty” writer Simon Beaufoy’s name attached, “Blow Dry” doesn’t deliver the same amount of light laughs or match the outrageous hairstyles in the _other_ recent British comedy about a hairdressing competition, “The Big Tease.” Perhaps this is because Beaufoy’s name is attached and not necessarily credited: “based on the screenplay ‘Never Better’ by Simon Beaufoy” reads the credit, with no mention of the person who did the adaptation duties. The only other time I can recall seeing such a strange writing non-credit is in “Caligula,” which was according to the credits was simply based on a script by Gore Vidal. Needless to say, “Blow Dry” doesn’t quite “blow” (in every sense) as Bob Guccione’s infamous porn epic does, but it most certainly is exceedingly dry.