Set on election day 1969, Shampoo is clearly a film with importance resting on the virtues of its contemporary culture. The story is an exploration of sexual politics within the social mores of an American society in an era of counterculture. In following this path, Shampoo relies on a simplistic narrative packed with many arbitrary characters who contribute to a single narrative that occurs over a period of 24 hours. As a result, the film is essentially like a day in the life of upper-middle class culture of 1969. Perhaps it was valid back in the day of its original release and its satire was more prominent, but by modern standards this is much more difficult to see. Essentially nothing happens in Shampoo; none of the characters are given that much meaning or anything interesting to say and the film fails to delve beneath the surface of their shallow ideals. All I gathered from Shampoo was that changing times in the 1960's had brought upon a new age of vanity in the American people, and perhaps that is where the satirical edge comes into play. But since the film focuses on an unlikable protagonist who is shallow in every sense of the word, we end up with a film as vain as the people it chronicles. Shampoo is a film which plods along at a ridiculously slow pace with nothing going on until its nihilistic climax where all the characters are essentially left unsatisfied. But since there is no satisfying people as materialistic and shallow as the characters in Shampoo, it's hard to care at all.
Since Shampoo comes with such a basic story, there is no room for experimentation of style with the film. Hal Ashby isn't one to challenge stylistic guidelines all that often, but Shampoo is so overtly basic that it unfolds like a stage production which somehow managed to film itself. Everything in Shampoo just happens without ever having a spark of real feeling to it, making for a grim and lifeless experience. And for Robert Towne who wrote the unforgettable screenplay to Chinatown (1974) to churn out this misfire the following year is a huge step down. Shampoo is not a film which has aged well whatsoever and is likely to just keep decreasing in critical recognition over time.
The general concept from Shampoo is not much of a distinctive one. The Australian equivalent of Shampoo would be Don's Party (1976) which came out the following year and occurred entirely within a short period on the Australian election night the same year. Don's Party succeeded because its characters were constantly engaged in discussion which made audiences aware of what they were thinking. We saw great topics touched upon such as politics and sexuality, while the film had a great sense of humour the entire time which made it hilarious. Shampoo is a film where audiences are expected to just know what the characters think and not rely on them to convey it to us. While we're trying to figure out what it all means, we have to deal with a slow pace and little humour to support it. Shampoo's supposed satire is burdened by a genuine lack of energy which makes it hard to find anything in the film funny whatsoever.
The British equivalent of Shampoo would be Alfie (1966). Though Alfie was far more comically oriented, it was far more insightful about the protagonist's sexual obsessions. It wasn't as analytical of the contemporary society that it was set in, but we actually had a sense that the characters had identity to them. There were actual characters rather than simple representations of contemporary ideals, and the problem with Shampoo is largely that it supplements the former with the latter.
Since characterization is such a weak point of Shampoo, the natural charms of the cast are all that is left to compensate for this. But with the glory days of these cast members being long before the age we are watching this film in today, the overall effect is mediocre.
I normally find a lot to enjoy with performances given by Warren Beatty, but Shampoo is one where he lets everybody down by presenting us with an exceedingly dull vanity project. Given his status as a Hollywood lothario, it is very befitting that he portrays such a character in Shampoo. It also means that we are presented with a self-obsessed and unlikable protagonist. George Roudy cuts hair for people and has sex with women, and that's all he essentially does the entire film. He never stops to think or actually provide anything interesting to say so that audiences may sympathise with him on any level. He's just a douche, and he symbolizes everything wrong with the film. Warren Beatty plays the role well enough with his natural charisma, but there is never a sense of humanity to him. And the fact that he couldn't write himself a better character is inexplicable.
Some cast members such as Julie Christie proceeded to have strong careers in the aftermath of Shampoo, but cast members such as Jack Warden and Lee Grant remain difficult to remember as they fail to stand out any more than the rest of the cast. Given that Lee Grant actually won an Academy Award for her role, the lack of distinction is rather strange.
Goldie Hawn is the one cast member I really enjoyed in Shampoo. Bereft of a strong character but instinctive with her sweet charm and vulnerability, Goldie Hawn manages to offer audiences someone to sympathise for simply because of her kind-hearted nature. And it's nice to see the appearance of a young Carrie Fisher in the days before she became Princess Leia.
Shampoo is a low point in the careers of Hal Ashby and Warren Beatty; it is a film with nothing to say and nobody who cares enough to say it, leaving its supposed satirical edge and social commentary to get lost amid the lack of story, characters or humour.
The romance angle is also nothing new.
The free-wheeling young people vs the stuffy older generation was laid on rather thick and is another aspect which seems not at all profound now.
Has its moments though. Some quite funny scenes. Overall, however, just feels dull and pointless.
Decent performances by Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn and Jack Warden.
Weirdly, the actors here are insiders into watching the Hollywood actor sex-trade politics, some actual contributors like Beatty who co-wrote and starred along w his reported real life lover julie christie - who reportedly didn't want to be in it, but did it as a favor to Beatty.
It has a pervading melancholy angst instead of being a light adult sex comedy - that heaviness sucks the life out of the whole movie.
It should have been a real popcorn fest watching hollywood exes dealing w each other, but its like a quietly seething argument at a funeral - you just want out of there, but you politely stay til its over.
The movie ends with a typical 70s, ambiguous ending where everyone wanders away in an angst-y daze.
Its Tired, dated and could only be enhanced by commentary, so at least they could gossip about the interesting things going on while you are being tortured w this bore-fest.
Look. Now Ive said to much..lol
One star for the great soundtrack.
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