Category Archives: Satire

Hairspray (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Integrate the dance show.

Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) audition for ‘The Corny Collins Show’ a local teen dance contest. Penny isn’t able to make the cut, but Tracy is much to the infuriation of the snotty Amber (Colleen Fitzpatrick) who was the show’s reigning dance queen. The rivalry between the two heats up even more when Tracy tries to integrate the show with black performers which incites Amber’s racist parents (Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry) to resort to desperate and violent means in order to keep the show segregated.

This was the movie where John Waters became a legitimate filmmaker who could use his craft to create a story instead of making a movie that was simply a foray into crude humor. When he first broke into the underground scene his films such as Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingoes, and Female Trouble where refreshingly trashy and daring to show things other movies wouldn’t. The stark frankness and complete disregard of who it offended were both hilarious and groundbreaking, but by the time it got to 1981’s Polyester the formula had gotten stale and hearing campy characters shout incessantly at each other was becoming derivative while also exposing Waters as possibly being just a one-dimensional talent who was sadly losing his edge.

This film though was a complete change-of-pace with each shot and scene a loving tribute to his days growing up in Baltimore during the 50’s and early 60’s. The film has a lot of dance numbers that normally could bog the pace down, but here I got into the energy of it and it helped me to feel even more like I had been transported into a different time period. The musical soundtrack is filled with a lot of lesser known songs which most viewers will have never heard of and thus helping the film’s soundtrack avoid sounding like just another generic playlist from an oldies radio station.

Divine’s presence is much less crucial to the story’s plotline than in Waters’ past films. Sadly by this time his/her appearance was looking even more like just some fat guy wearing wig and no longer coming off in any way as being an overweight woman even though in the past films it was at times hard to tell. His physique looked so out of shape here that it should be no surprise that he died of a sudden heart attack just three weeks after the film’s release. In fact as the mother he really isn’t funny or engaging at all and only in a brief few scenes where he plays the station’s cantankerous owner Arvin Hodgepile does he show actual energy and gets a few laughs.

The original idea was to have Divine play both the roles of the mother and daughter, but fortunately that got nixed and Ricki Lake was brought in. She has a genuine, honest presence about her that creates instant empathy and it’s nice having a film showing an overweight person where her body type did not impede her from achieving her goals nor work as a detriment at keeping her down.

The supporting cast is eclectic, but unfortunately most are wasted particularly Jerry Stiller and Sonny Bono as the two fathers. Debbie Harry is great with her increasingly outrageous beehive hairdos, which become the most memorable and imaginative thing about the film. Lesser known actress Joanne Havrilla is quite funny as Penny’s racist mother especially the scene where she panics when trapped in a black neighborhood. John Waters himself gets some good comic bits playing Penny’s quack psychiatrist and Pia Zadora is engaging as a pot smoking beatnik.

The film is full of comical highlights that playfully runs the gamut between subtle, over-the-top and crude that somehow works to form a cohesive whole culminating in a very funny ‘race riot’ at the end. If the film has any fault it is in the fact that it treats racism in a little too much of a trivial way like it is just some silly thing that can be easily fixed instead of the serious and deep-rooted issue that it really is.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 16, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Waters

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Risky Business (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen becomes suburban pimp.

Joel (Tom Cruise) is a teenager living in a sprawling home on the North Shore of suburban Chicago who is stressing about getting into a top college. His parents (Nicholas Pryor, Janet Carroll) announce that they will be leaving on vacation for two weeks and he’ll have the whole place to himself. After some prodding by his friends he invites over a beautiful prostitute named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) and takes her for a spin in his Dad’s Porsche, which accidently slides into the lake. The repairs will be expensive, so Lana devises a scheme where his home will be used as a temporary, make-shift whorehouse bringing in customers, many of whom being Joel’s high school friends who will pay to have sex with Lana’s beautiful call girl friends and whose proceeds will go to fixing the car.

The film is a fresh, funny look at capitalism and a perfect composite of the Reagan years and ‘80s attitudes. However, the conversations that the teens have here is jarringly out-of-touch with today’s youngsters who seem to favor more socialistic concepts. On one hand this then dates the picture, but it also makes it fascinating at seeing how people thought from a bygone era.

Cruise is fantastic and really looks like a teen, especially with his bowl haircut, even though he was already in his 20’s at the time. The character though allows himself to be taken advantage of too much by his friends. For most people the friendship would immediately end if they had a pal who would invited over a prostitute as a ‘joke’ that they didn’t want and would still be expected to pay for.

Why are these friends doing these hijinks anyways? It was almost like Joel had never been home alone before. Most likely he had, so why now are his buddies doing these things when they hadn’t earlier? A much better premise would’ve been to have Joel achieve some sort of accomplishment, like pass an all-important SAT test and as a ‘reward’ his friends would pitch-in and buy him a prostitute for the night while his parents were away. Everything else that follows would be the same, but at least the catalyst that sets it in motion would make more sense and Joel would seem less like a pushover straddled with irritating friends no one in their right mind would want.

The sex scene between Joel and Lana comes off like an overly stylized bit from a soft core porn flick. There were several fantasy segments that came before it and I was fully expecting this to be one of them, but it isn’t. Joel is a kid that seriously lacks confidence in every other way, so I would imagine his initial meeting with a prostitute would be awkward especially since he had never done anything like that before. Most likely he would’ve been so nervous that he might not have been able to even ‘rise-to-the-occasion’. Having Joel initially behave clumsily towards Lana would’ve been funny and more believable instead as it is here the ‘reality’ segment is dreamier than the fantasy ones.

The Lana character is frustrating as she remains an aloof composite of a hooker that the viewer never gets to understand as a real person. Seeing her in a vulnerable moment would’ve helped, but it never comes. (Her conversation with Joel about her life was too brief and not enough.) I would’ve liked a more conclusive ending revealing whether their relationship ‘blossomed’, worked into a long term friendship, or just dissipated. Having a scene at the end with Joel in college and calling Lana up to chat could’ve solidified this.

The parents are portrayed as being too stuffy and more like caricatures. The ending, which entails Joel buying back his parent’s furniture that had been stolen and then moving it all back into the home with the help of friends before his parents arrived is implausible. The house was too big and had too many items for them to be able to get everything in near spotless position in only 2 hours’ time.

The movie’s original charm is also affected by the fact that films like Home Alone and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have had similar plots and stronger cult followings, but there’s still plenty of engaging moments. Watching Cruise dance around in his underwear to a Bob Segar song is hilarious. His precarious attempts to save the Porsche from going into the lake is really funny as is his interview with a college admissions dean from Princeton (Richard Masur) in Joel’s home while prostitutes and their customers scurry all around.

( Joel’s house as it appears today.)

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Brickman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Beer (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This beer is flat.

An ad agency goes on the offense when their top client Norbecker beer (Kenneth Mars) threatens to pull their account. B.D. Tucker (Loretta Swit) is put in charge of introducing a new ad campaign that will excite viewers. After she witnesses three men (Elliot Morrison, William Russ, Saul Stein) subdue a gunman at a bar she decides to hire them to star in her new commercial were they’re portrayed as macho men and chick magnets, which causes controversy when female viewers find the ads to be sexist.

Normally I love satire and find it sad that there are so few satirical movies out there and yet it’s films like these that have single-handedly killed the genre. The attempt at mixing the acerbic wit of Network with the work place politics of How to Succeed at Business without Really Trying and then throwing them into the rapid-fire joke structure of Airplane doesn’t work and only succeeds at producing more groans than laughs. The tone is inconsistent with too many dumb gags thrown in for the sake of a cheap laugh that many times has nothing to do with the main theme. Taking satirical jabs at the advertising business is too easy and been done before while portraying the industry and the people who work in it in too much of a generic way. You’ll find a more realistic portrait of the business and on-target satire from a weak episode of ‘Bewitched’ than anything you’ll see here.

The three male leads lack pizazz and are incredibly bland and transparent. The film might’ve had a better chance of working had it cut the three characters down to just one, hired an actor who had some actual presence and then geared the story completely from his point-of-view, so the viewer like the protagonist could see the ugly side of advertising biz first-hand from an outsider’s perspective.

The supporting cast fails to help. Mars does a softer version of the caricature that he portrayed in The Producers, but here it fails to elicit even a small chuckle. Swit, who was nearing 50 at the time, looks great, but her performance lacks verve. Sandra Bernhard, who was initially cast in the role and then later fired, would’ve been a better choice for this type of material.

Dick Shawn’s attempt to emulate Phil Donahue doesn’t work as he fails to share any of Donahue’s same mannerisms although seeing him prance around on stage as he goes from one audience member to the next is worth a few chuckles. The scene though, which involves female audience members shouting their disproval of the beer commercials at the three men who starred in them, would’ve been stronger had it been Swit a fellow female that was onstage taking the women’s heat instead of the men.

The biggest transgression though is that after bombarding us with one silly comedic idea after another it then decides to suddenly at the end make a ‘serious statement’, which is utterly hackneyed. You can’t spend the majority of time being inane only to get ‘profound’ at the last minute, which makes this production seem even more amateurish and misguided than it already is.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 30, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Patrick Kelly

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video

Polyester (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife has problems.

Francine Fishpaw’s (Divine) world is crumbling. Not only must she endure constant protests in front of her suburban Baltimore home dealing with people upset with her husband (David Samson) running an adult theater, but she must also deal with his affair with his sexy secretary (Mink Stole) as well. Her teenage son (Ken King) is terrorizing the city by intentionally stomping on the feet of every woman he sees and her daughter Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) wants an abortion. She then meets the dashing Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) and the two immediately fall-in-love only to find that he too has a dark-side.

This was John Waters’ first studio backed film and the first to garner an R-rating while the others had been X. While the budget is an improvement and its technicallys more polished the edginess is lost. The humor and satirical potshots don’t have the same zing and are lacking in originality and outrageousness. The gimmick of passing out a scratch-and-sniff cards where audiences could sniff the scents being smelled by the film’s main character seems excessively juvenile and the film begins with a campy scientist (Rick Breitenfeld) talking about it, which sets the tone too much on a silly/cartoonish level.

Divine’s presence helps, but she isn’t as made-up or as flashy as she was in her past films and looking much more like just some fat guy wearing a lady’s wig. I liked that her character was consistently normal for the most part as in the other films she behaved more erratically although what she goes through here is so unrelentingly traumatic that it borders on being almost cruel to laugh at. It’s also not completely easy to sympathize with her quandary as her kid’s behavior is so outrageous you have to question her parenting skills and whether she’s partially to blame for the bad things that they do.

Edith Massey is funny as a poor woman who wins the lottery and now acts a bit nouveau riche about it. It’s also fun seeing the two teens go through a Jekyll and Hyde transformation, but Tab’s appearance adds little although he does sing a decent opening title tune.

The broad humor for the most part is dumb, but I still found myself laughing-out-loud at some of it, which I suppose is a part of Waters’ ‘charm’ at getting you to laugh at things you otherwise wouldn’t. Some of the moments that had me chuckling were: a ‘nice’ picnic that gets ruined by ants and a skunk. Pregnant young women forced to go on a ‘happy hayride’ in the cold rain by two fascist nuns and the pet dog who commits suicide by hanging himself along with leaving a note saying ‘Goodbye cruel world’.  The part where overweight Jean Hill hijacks a bus and chases down a group of teens who assaulted her on the street and then bites into their car tires to disable their vehicle is pretty wacked-out too.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Waters

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife gets smaller.

Pat Kramer (Lily Tomlin) is a housewife/mother raising two rambunctious kids (Shelby Balik, Justin Dana) while married to Vance (Charles Grodin) who works in advertising. After being exposed to some products from her husband’s company she begins to shrink until she becomes so small that she is forced to move into a dollhouse and drink out of thimble since a regular glass would be too big for her to hold.

The film is a modern remake of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man and as much as I loved the original this version takes the storyline in a completely different direction, which for a while proves interesting. Director Joel Schumacher comes up with some wild color schemes and the knowing satire makes great points in its observations on modern suburbia as well as American consumerism. Screenwriter Jane Wagner manages to employ some well thought out scenarios and the special effects aren’t bad either.

Unfortunately by the second-half becomes muddled with scenarios that are no longer funny, but genuinely horrifying and sad instead. The satirical edge gets lost and replaced with an over-the-top mad-scientist-trying-to-conquer-the world angle that becomes cheesy.  I was also confused with how Pat was able to continue to find clothes to fit her especially after she gets smaller than even a toy doll. The film seemed to touch on every other possible problem, so they should’ve had at the very least had a throwaway scene analyzing this one.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets too cute for its own good as Pat shrinks to nothing and then has what’s left of the small outfit she was wearing fall into a puddle of spilled chemicals, which somehow makes her big again. This however ruins the poignancy that had been created from showing clips of bells being rung around the world from different countries in remembrance of Pat, which had a certain profound message that no matter how small you are you can still have an impact. Instead of giving the film some substance it goes for a last-second gimmick that cements it as being an empty-headed comedy and nothing more.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Tomlin’s performance is excellent as she creates empathy for her character, which helps make the story more engrossing as you genuinely build concern and sympathy for Pat’s welfare. Noted make-up specialist Rick Baker garnered a cult following for his convincing performance of an ape, although the shot of the animal giving some people in an elevator the finger is pushing it. The movie though as a whole works only in spurts with a message and tone that is too unfocused and inconsistent to be completely effective.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Barefoot Executive (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chimp picks the hits.

Stuck working in a television network’s mailroom, Steven (Kurt Russell) longs for his big-break into the programming department as his previous attempts to impress upper management (Harry Morgan, Joe Flynn) have all failed. Then his girlfriend Jennifer (Heather North) is put in charge of taking care of her neighbor’s chimp while they are away. To Steven’s surprise the chimp shows an uncanny ability to know which TV shows will be a success and which will flop. He decides to use the chimp’s talents and pretend that they are his own, which he hopes will finally let him climb up the corporate ladder.

This film is a little bit different from all the other Disney flicks from that era in that there aren’t the slapstick hijinks or the patented car chase. The emphasis is instead on satire that for the most part hits the mark. It also has a protagonist that isn’t so squeaky clean either. Russell’s character is more than willing to lie and even cheat if he thinks it can help him move ahead and although he has a slight tinge of guilt about it’s never enough to get him to completely mend his ways, which helps to make him seem more human and the situation more believable.

Joe Flynn is quite funny in support. He was a comic character actor who had a great ability to play both exasperated authority types as well as meek subordinates and here he does both. He also has an amusing scene with Wally Cox on top of a ledge of a high rise building and I couldn’t help but think about the irony as I watched these two carry out the scene that only three years after this film’s release these otherwise healthy looking middle-aged men would both be dead. There’s also the novelty of seeing two alumni from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ appear here with Hayden Rorke, who played Dr. Bellows on the TV-show and a TV exec here, and Bill Daily who ironically plays an airplane navigator, which he also later did on ‘The Bob Newhart Show’.

The film’s funniest moment though is actually just a throwaway bit where a news reporter, played by Jack Smith, goes out and gets the opinions of people on the street about their take on the rumors that a chimp is picking the TV shows that they watch. He interviews one woman (Iris Adrian) who at first scoffs at the notion, but then thinks about how all of her favorite shows get cancelled and how so many stupid ones gets put on the air and then comes to the conclusion that a monkey running the network makes perfect sense. It brought to mind a memoir written by legendary screenwriter William Goldman detailing in his opinion how studio execs really don’t have any clue what film will become a hits, which becomes the film’s best joke as in all honesty you’d have just as much luck with a chimp picking the stuff as you would a person.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Robert Butler

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Last Married Couple in America (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody’s getting a divorce.

Jeff and Marie (George Segal, Natalie Wood) have been happily married for quite a while, but suddenly all of their friends, who seemed to be in happy relationships as well, begin divorcing. They start to wonder if their marriage is as fulfilling as they thought. Jeff then sneaks off to have an affair with Barbara (Valerie Harper) and when Marie finds out she leaves him and takes up with a younger man, but the more the two are apart the more they long to get back together.

Wood described this film as being Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice 10 years later, but this lacks the bite and insight of that one. The first act goes on too long. Jeff and Marie’s conversations about their friend’s divorcing are transparent and it takes almost 40 minutes before the film finally works into act two. The story as a whole is shallow and makes no real point while filled with lackluster humor that goes nowhere.

The supporting characters are the most annoying as they are portrayed as being these one-dimensional, sexual revolution zombies whose sole purpose in life is to fool around with anyone they come into contact with married or not. They fail to pick-up on basic social signals that a normal person would and are completely oblivious to the concept that others may not be as ‘liberated’ as they are. If one chooses to be a swinger that’s fine, but they still have to be cognizant to the fact that they live in a world where not everyone will share that liberal lifestyle and having everyone lack this basic understanding makes them seem inhuman and nothing more than cardboard caricatures.

Wood comes off best and is the most relatable. Dom DeLuise is somewhat amusing as a male porn star. We never actually see his character at work, but just the idea that this pudgy man would make a living having sex in front of the camera is funny enough. Harper sporting a bleach blonde hairstyle is solid as well, but Segal with his overly exaggerated reactions and facial expressions is a major detriment.

As for the humor one could find more chuckles from an old episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’. However, there is one moment that got me to laugh. It entails a conversation that Segal has with his friend (Richard Benjamin) at a bar. The two men lament about getting older and Segal states that having a weak stream while going to the bathroom is a strong signal of aging. The two then go to the men’s room to analyze theirs. While Benjamin stands at the urinal he suddenly looks up with a horrified expression while exclaiming “Oh my God, there’s two!”

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Release: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series)

Irreconcilable Differences (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl divorces her parents.

Nine-year-old Casey (Drew Barrymore) has decided she’s had enough of her parents (Shelley Long, Ryan O’Neal) and wants to get a divorce from them by using the emancipation law, which states that a minor can be freed of their parents if it is found that they have not meet their legal or equitable duty. Her mother and father fight this in court, but in the process are forced to expose all their skeletons including the awkward way they first meet, their affairs and eventual disdain for the other.

What surprised me most is O’Neal’s presence. His career has become so tarnished by his own real-life accusations of poor parenting that I would’ve thought this material would hit too close-to-home and he’d avoid it, but at the time this was considered a career resuscitator for him even though it ended up being only a brief one. His performance is actually quite funny making this his best work since What’s Up Doc?

I was equally impressed with Long who plays completely against type. Normally she’s best as snotty, prissy types, but here she reveals a much more vulnerable side and does quite well. At one point I even felt some genuine sympathy for her, which is something I’ve never felt at any other time with any of the other parts that she has played.

Sharon Stone, who gets listed in the opening credits as being ‘introduced’ even though she had already had a part in another theatrical feature Deadly Blessing that came out three years earlier, lends strong support. The way her character transitions from a wide-eyed free-spirit to bitchy Hollywood diva is quite entertaining and she looks great especially when topless. However, the bit where she exposes her excessively hairy armpits is gross and kind of tainted my image of her the rest of the way.

The script, which is based loosely on the relationship between Peter Bogdanovich and his wife Polly Platt with the Sharon Stone character representing Cybill Shephard who became the other woman, is sharp and filled with a lot of Hollywood in-jokes. The two funniest bits are the conversations between the guests at a chic Hollywood party as well as a glimpse of O’Neal’s disastrous attempt to direct a big budget rip-off of Gone With the Wind by trying to turn it into a musical.

The film though spends too much time on the parents while almost forgetting about Barrymore who’s only seen sporadically. The story also takes too long to play out with a final reconciliation segment that is overdone and sappy and helps to lose the wonderfully cynical tone that the film had earlier.

The only truly interesting aspect about the film is that Barrymore later used this same emancipation law to divorce herself from her real parents when she turned 15 and stated in interviews that she did it based off of the idea that she got from doing this movie.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Shyer

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD

S.O.B. (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes topless.

Movie producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) is suffering from what they call in Hollywood as Standard Operating Bullshit. His recent film, a family oriented musical that starred his wife Sally (Julie Andrews) and was titled ‘Night Wind’ is a box office flop. Now no one wants to work with him and the studio tries to reedit the film in an attempt to ‘save it’. All of which sends Felix on verge of suicide until he gets the idea of turning the movie into a soft core porn flick and having  Sally bare her breasts in it.

The film is loosely based on experiences that writer/director Blake Edwards had along with his real-life wife actress Julie Andrews during the early ‘70s when their project Darling Lilli did not do well financially and his next several films after that met with lots of studio interference before he was finally able to rebound by resurrecting the Pink Panther franchise.

The satirical jabs are obvious but amusing and the real problems come more with the shallow/jaded characters. Even the wholesome Sally comes off as cold with her rather ambivalent reaction to her husband’s depression/suicide attempt. There is also a running gag dealing with a man (Herb Tanney) who has heart attack at the beach while jogging and his loyal dog stays by his side even though no one else pays attention to it, which starts out as darkly amusing, but eventually gets cruelly overplayed.

Mulligan makes a flat impression as the star to the point of being almost transparent. For the first half he doesn’t say a single word while behaving in an overly exaggerated despondent way. When he finally snaps out of this he then eagerly tries to sell-out on his own film vision simply so it can make a buck, which makes him no better than the rest of the scummy Hollywood elites that he is supposedly trying to fight. Andrews is boring too and her brief topless scene comes off as exploitive and ill-advised.

The best bits come from its supporting cast. Robert Preston as the perpetually inebriated doctor has a few great lines and Robert Webber does well as a very nervous, high-strung press agent. Loretta Swit is hilarious as a bitchy, cantankerous gossip columnist who gets cooped up in a hospital after an accident and an almost unrecognizable Larry Storch hams it up under heavy make-up as a spiritual guru. There is also Robert Vaughn wearing high heels and women’s clothing.

I enjoyed the film within a film approach and the tawdry dream-like sequence scene, but the story suffers from adding in too much slapstick including a drawn-out car chase that seems suited for a completely different type of movie. For mild comedy it is okay, but as satire it fails to make any strong or impactful statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Youtube

Shampoo (1975)

shampoo-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hairdresser shags his clients.

George (Warren Beatty) is a successful hairstylist who makes a habit of sleeping with his lady clients. He wants to open up his own beauty salon, but lacks the funds and not enough collateral to qualify for a loan. He is currently sleeping with Felicia (Lee Grant) who tells him to ask her husband Lester (Jack Warden) for the money. Lester is having an affair with Jackie (Julie Christie) who used to be George’s girlfriend. George’s current girlfriend is Jill (Goldie Hawn) who is having the inklings to sleep with Johnny (Tony Bill) since she thinks George is not being faithful to her. Everything comes to head on the night of November 5, 1968 during the election returns when everyone finds out that everyone else has been cheating on them and things get hilariously awkward.

This could quite easily be the best satire on the mores of Southern California culture ever made. The fact that it gets juxtaposed with the election where the same people who voted for an administration that vows to crackdown on the ‘permissive culture’ are the same ones doing the immoral behavior makes a very loud statement on the foibles and hypocrisies of the establishment.

Richard Sylbert was nominated for the Academy Award for his set decoration and he should’ve won as the vibrant and colorful interiors of the plush homes that the characters reside in become almost like a third character and makes you feel like you are right there inside the places with the characters and immersed completely in their world. The spectacular skyline views seen from the window of Lester’s office are equally impressive and I also enjoyed the party sequence, which reflected a true party atmosphere particularly the one attended by members of the counter-culture and the stylized set lighting by a slowly opening refrigerator door that gradually exposes the identities of a couple making love in the dark to the shocked onlookers standing around is outstanding.

The talented female cast is terrific, but a bit misused. Jackie’s meltdown during the election party seemed way overdone. This was a smart woman who would’ve seen through Lester’s thin veneer from the start and therefore wouldn’t have been that ‘traumatized’ when it finally came out in the open.

I was also disappointed that we didn’t see more of Lee Grant’s character. She won the Academy Award for her work here, but there needed to be more of a wrap-up with her as well as a scene showing an ultimate confrontation with her daughter (Carrie Fisher in her film debut) who has a secret fling with George behind her back. However, the shot showing Fisher giving her mother the most hateful and disdainful glare you can imagine that literally burns through the screen is almost a gem in itself.

Despite his many transgressions I found Lester to be strangely likable. His quirky ‘bonding’ with George near the end is cute, but I really wanted to see him jump into the hot tub and smoking some weed with the hippies after they offer him a joint and was disappointed it never came to pass even though it does come close.

Beatty, who co-wrote the screenplay, has his moments too, but they don’t come until the final half-hour, but it’s worth the wait. His ‘confession’ to Jill about what motivates him to sleep with all of his female clients and what he gets out of it is not only funny, but quite revealing to any male with the same traits. His final desperate plea to Jackie at the very end is equally interesting and even a bit surprising.

My only real complaint is the fact that it doesn’t seem like a legitimate ‘60s atmosphere even though that’s when it supposed to take place. The adult characters are too brazen in their actions. The college crowd was the first to embrace the free love philosophy while the middle-agers, who were raised in a more repressed, guilt-ridden era, took longer to catch-up to it. It just reeks too much of the mid ‘70s where by that time ‘everybody was doing it’ particularly in swinging L.A., which is where the time period should’ve stayed. There is also never any explanation for why the fire department comes in to evacuate the guests from the building as they are watching the returns.

Still the message of how people who use other people will eventually end up getting owned by the very same folks that they think they are manipulating is very on-target and amusingly played-out.

shampoo-1

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube