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Blow Dry: All’s Fair in Love and Hair

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a little British film called Blow Dry, written by Simon Beaufoy of The Full Monty fame and directed by Paddy Breathnach

Not to be confused with the adult classic Blow Dry from 1976.

Though the similarities are striking, the 2001 Blow Dry is a funny, quirky movie about the importance of family and it only has one wildly problematic moment. (See if you can spot it.)

To look at the poster, one might think, “I know what this movie is about” but you’d be wrong.

Now, I know a movie poster is supposed to tell us everything there is to know about a movie. I have a friend I’ll call Trevor, who decides whether or not he’s interested in a movie solely based on the poster. He refuses to watch trailers because if the poster is intriguing enough he doesn’t want to know anything about the movie before going into it.

So, is this a movie my weird friend Trevor would watch? Let’s take a closer look at the poster.

One might look at this and think, “Ooooh. It’s a movie about a mysterious young seductress slinking her way into the heart of a hapless young hairdresser only to slit his throat with a pair of scissors and run off with his money, laughing into the night.”

One would be wrong. (Though I would probably watch that movie. Maybe I could write that movie… let me jot down some notes.)

One might then go on to ponder, “Well then, maybe it’s a fun romcom about these two rapscallions getting into all sorts of hijinks as they cut and style hair with wild abandon.” 

One would be getting warmer but still not quite hitting the nail on the head, as it were. The movie isn’t even really about Josh Hartnett and Rachael Leigh Cook. Not exactly, anyway. Their love interest storyline is a C Story at best. 

Feels like this was a fairly blatant attempt to get American butts into seats by having these hot rising young stars on the poster instead of Alan Rickman or Natasha Richardson or Bill Nighy, who also star in the movie. Sometimes movies can only get funding if it stars certain actors who are on a studio’s list. Sometimes it’s a direct appeal to the audience of another country (one that spends a lot of money at the theater like the United States) by having “local” stars in it. I’m not saying that happened here, I’m simply saying, sometimes it happens.

Why these two Yanks in particular? Let’s see what else Rachael Leigh Cook was involved in in 2001 that might have made her an appealing actor to cast. Something big and flashy maybe?

Not bad, not bad. And Josh Hartnett?


Oh, I see.

The main story revolves around Rickman and Richardson’s ex-marriage and the toll divorce takes on their splintered family. Don’t worry, it’s a comedy.

Shelley (Richardson), ten years ago, fell in love with Phil’s (Rickman) model and the two of them ran away together, splitting the family in half down the middle. Shelley and the model, Sandra (Rachel Griffiths) are on one side of the dispute and Rickman and his son Brian (Hartnett) are on the other. Though, to be fair, Brian is more caught in the middle than on his dad’s side but it works better if there are two distinct sides.

Shelley and Sandra go on to open and run a successful salon business. Meanwhile, Phil has opened a barber shop with Brian called, appropriately, “Phil’s Barber Shop.” Here, for seven pounds fifty, one can get a fairly traditional men’s haircut. This type of old school barber shop in this tiny bucket of a town called Keighly, seems miles away from where we’re introduced to Raymond Robertson (Nighy) back in London. A competing hairdresser and rival of Phil’s, Raymond gives a demonstration haircut that involves just, so much glitter.

That’s what Raymond is all about. Glitz and glam. In fact, all these hoity-toity London hairdressers pull out all the stops as far as theatrical haircuts. But guess what happens next? Do you know which city is chosen as the location for this year’s British Hairdressing Championships? (BHC to those of us in the know.) Bringing it back full circle, that’s right, it’s our very own Keighly!

Please clap.

Oh, right. Also, Shelley has cancer. (I told you this movie was funny.) When we first meet Shelley, she’s heading down to the doctor in order to find out if her cancer has gone into remission. It hasn’t, which means Shelley is all out of options at this point. She’s tried everything. Upon returning home to Sandra, however, she lies and tells her she got the all clear. This information will come out at the absolute worst moment. (And not in the way that you think.)

After getting her cancer diagnosis, Shelley begins to take stock of her life and the things that are important to her. For Shelley, that means family. If only there were a reason, an event of some kind, that would allow a family of hairdressers to rally around one another and remember what the best things in life are…

Wait a moment, they live in Keighly… the British Hair Championships are in Keighly… That’s it, everyone’s keen to sign up for the competition. Everyone that is, except Phil. He’s got to be the party pooper. He still hasn’t forgiven Shelley for running out on him and he definitely hasn’t forgiven Sandra for making off with the love of his life. Sorry folks, he’s out.

That doesn’t stop the rest of the family from throwing their hat in the ring. There are four rounds consisting of Blowdry, Men’s Freestyle, Hair By Night, and Total Look.

As the big day approaches, everyone gets their game face on. For Raymond Robertson, that means cheating. He has his man sneak into the backstage area before the competition begins and swap out the professional combs for ones made of cheap plastic that will melt under the heat of the hair dryers. And it works. Every comb wilts and falls apart about halfway through the first round. Everyone except for Raymond’s, that is. Funny, though, no one finds this odd. Anyway, Raymond takes round one.

That night, at the bar, Raymond and Phil run into one another. Raymond’s mother apparently never taught him the rule “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” and basically calls Phil a loser who can’t let go of the past. This spurs Phil into action. No, he’s not going to compete, his character hasn’t come that far yet, there’s still some movie to get through, but what he will do is coach the team so they have a fighting chance at beating Raymond, the ol’ cheat.

First things first. They have to sabotage Raymond’s next attempt at cheating. Round two of the BHC requires men in the audience to volunteer to essentially get a makeover. The hairdressers have twenty minutes to provide the perfect haircut and style. Raymond’s plan is to cut a model’s hair the night before then rig the random drawing so his model will have a three-hour haircut done in just twenty minutes.

Phil is hip to Raymond’s schemes, however, as Raymond seems to go back to the well pretty often as far as his cheating techniques. That’s good for our people as when the drawing is well and truly random, Raymond and his team get an unshowered drunk with four-inch eyebrow hair.

Our heroes come in fourth place in round two, edging them closer to Raymond. Not great, but not bad either.

Before we get to round three, let’s talk a little about round four: Total Look. Total look is important and so they talk about it several times throughout, trying to come up with big ideas. Sandra first dresses up like Marilyn Monroe, suggesting that would be a showstopper of a total look. 

Phil, pooper that he is, poops on that idea, saying that doing Marilyn is hack. So, Sandra goes off to think of another idea. This time she comes back dressed as… well, she comes back dressed as this:

I’d insert a record scratch here if I could because that’s what happened in my head when she came out looking like this and rocking a, to put it politely, very unfortunate accent. I won’t go into the string of reasons why this is horrible except to say this: Now probably isn’t the time you’d want to learn that your significant other lied about their cancer and is doomed for the grave.

That’s what happens here, which means Rachel Griffiths has to emote learning the love of her life is going to be horribly ripped from her in the very near future, all the while looking like this.

Of course, after learning this and learning Phil and Brian both knew about the bad diagnosis and kept it from her, she quits the competition leaving them in the lurch for round three.

Without a model, it looks like our friends from The Cut Above are out of the competition until Shelley shows us she’s still got some tricks up her sleeve. In her spare time, Shelley cuts a kindly old blind woman’s hair. Shelley brings the woman in to be her model at the last second. She goes on to take first prize with “one of them eighteenth century baroque jobs.”

Winning round three brings The Cut Above team to just a few points from Raymond and gives them a shot at taking home the gold. But alas, Sandra quit the team and Phil has said repeatedly that he won’t participate.

Guess it’s time for Phil to complete his character arc. He finally gets what Shelley was trying to do this whole time. She just wanted them all to be a family. So Phil sets out to get Sandra back. After all, ten years ago, before everything went to hell, Phil had spent six months planning a total look. A total look he never got to do because of the love triangle and whatnot.

Phil realizes it’s not him or Sandra that Shelley needs. She needs all of them, together. He’s willing to give it a shot.

Aaaaaaaand we’re back, babeee!

In the meantime, Raymond has been hit with a huge disadvantage. His model, his daughter Christina (Cook) cut off all her hair in protest to his cheating ways. She hacks the shit out of her head with a pair of scissors and yet somehow still manages to pull it off.

This forces Raymond to pick a different model last second and change his entire plan. He’s on the ropes! As everyone reaches for their combs and their scissors and their hair dryers, Phil reaches for these:

Yeah, boyyyy, he starts shaving parts of Sandra’s head. What’s this underneath this hair? Why, it looks like a tattoo.

Phil works furiously. Now’s time for the big moment, the big reveal. A total look, ten years and six months in the making…

Truly wild. And while the other contestants all did a yeoman’s job (full disclosure, I have no idea what a yeoman does for a living) in the end, the winner goes to…

The Cut Above! And the crowd goes wild! They were able to put away their differences and come together as a family. Not for the trophy or the fame but for themselves. They all walk out together, hand in hand, arm in arm, into a happier life than when they started.

See? Just like the poster promised. And for those wondering, no, Trevor’s never seen Blow Dry.

Blow Dry

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Written By

Seth Boston is an LA-based writer hailing from a small town in midwest Arkansas you've never heard of. He's worked in various positions on numerous TV shows including Eleventh Hour, The Forgotten, and The Mentalist. His prolific writing earned him the work for which he's best known, as a writer and producer on the Emmy-winning series Gotham for Fox.

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