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Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Blow Dry

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Blow Dry is an excellent example of mind over matter, which in this case translates to a superb cast and clear-headed director elevating cheap jokes to a bittersweet comedy of reconciliation.

Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy starts things rolling by revisiting the Yorkshire of The Full Monty with another culture-clash tale. The town of Keighley is chosen to host the National British Hairdressing Championships, and the set-up is obvious: Poncy stylists arrive in the ruggedly scenic but stylistically backward community and run up against the earthy townsfolk.

Hilarity ensues, or at least that’s the idea. But Irish director Paddy Breathnach (I Went Down) decides to laugh with his characters instead of at them. He films Blow Dry in a naturalistic style, which grounds it in reality despite the outrageous elements of the story.

The characters are living with the repercussions of events which happened 10 years prior (discussed but never shown) when Phil Allen (Alan Rickman) and his wife Shelley (Natasha Richardson) were English stars of the international hair circuit. Then, on the eve of their biggest competition triumph, Shelley ran off with their model, Sandra (Rachel Griffiths). Now, a taciturn Phil runs a Keighley barber shop with his son, Brian (Josh Hartnett), and refuses to speak to either Shelley or Sandra who run The Cut Above Salon (located literally upstairs).

Shelley, losing her battle with cancer (a tearjerker cliché kept in check), decides to unite her ragtag family through competition. In this type of film, a happy ending is guaranteed, but the road getting there contains some surprises due in large part to compassionate performances from stellar veterans and a soulful Hartnett (The Virgin Suicides).

Last year’s The Big Tease portrayed hair competitions — and the stylists obsessed with winning them — as broad farce. Even a documentary like Hot-Irons (which uncovers Detroit as the African-American hair-styling capital of the world) contains enough high drama and emotional extremes to show why this subject is made for comedy. Yet Blow Dry is more tender than arch, a big hair movie which opts for the comfort of a good soft wave.

Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak — call 248-542-0180) and the Star Great Lakes Crossing (4300 Baldwin Rd., Auburn Hills — call 248-454-0366).

E-mail Serena Donadoni at letters@metrotimes.com.

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