It isn't hair-raising, but you'll get the drift

Review: All the raucous goings-on in this little town makes `Blow Dry' a noble effort.

March 07, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN FILM CRITIC

If you can get past some goshawful hairstyles masquerading as high art, you might find yourself mildly amused by "Blow Dry," a feel-good us-against-them tale that panders mercilessly to its audience, yet displays a few moments of honest humor.

The tiny working-class English town of Keighley has a bit of the doldrums, but maybe that's about to change. The mayor (Warren Clarke) has persuaded the organizers of the British Hairstyling Championships to bring their show to town, and while the local citizenry seems underwhelmed by the news, he's sure this is the start of something big.

One person you'd think would be excited is the local barber, Phil Allen (Alan Rickman), a former big-time hair stylist who's been on a 10-year downslide. His son, Brian (Josh Hartnett), sees this as a chance for redemption; so does his ex-wife and former partner, Shelley (Natasha Richardson).

But Phil's too busy being bitter to see an opportunity when it presents itself. Ten years ago, Shelley ran off with their model, Sandra (Rachel Griffiths), to start a new life. The three haven't spoken since, and Phil's not interested in starting now.

Ah, but there are complicating factors: Shelley has cancer, and it's not responding to treatment. Phil's erstwhile rival, the conniving and egotistical Ray Roberts (Bill Nighy), has come to town as the favorite. And finally, Roberts has brought his beautiful daughter, Christine (Rachel Leigh Cook), from America for the competition - prompting the revival of what was a serious case of puppy love in Brian.

Of course, the audience can see where all this is headed, and "Blow Dry" isn't going to win points for originality or daring. But it does generate considerable good will through its characters (especially the mayor, whose duties as the competition's emcee bring him out of his shell), and its uniformly appealing cast. Richardson is especially winning, while Rickman may be the world's most noble-sounding has-been. And Griffiths turns the flighty Sandra into a source of unexpected strength.

American audiences that have lapped up such recent British comedies as "The Full Monty" (which, like "Blow Dry," was written by Simon Beaufoy) and "Waking Ned Devine," should find similar pleasures here. However, those who have had enough of the quirky genre should definitely turn their movie-going attentions elsewhere.

`Blow Dry'

Starring Natasha Richardson, Alan Rickman, Rachel Griffiths

Directed by Paddy Breathnach

Released by Miramax Films

Rated (Language, brief nudity)

Running time 105 minutes

Sun score: ** 1/2

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