Forgotten Film: Blow Dry (2001)

Not Alan Rickman's best-known film, but certainly worth checking out.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 151st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

With the unexpected death of Alan Rickman this week, I was reminded of my favorite film of his which, of course, no one mentioned in any of their notices about his career. So I pulled my DVD off the shelf and took another look at it — and I still loved it a lot.

Blow Dry has a pretty stellar cast with Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Rachael Leigh Cook, Josh Hartnett and Bill Nighy in the lead roles and lots of great British character actors like Warren Clarke (Dim from A Clockwork Orange), Rosemary Harris (Aunt May Parker from Spider-Man 1, 2, and 3) and David Bradley (Argus Filch from Harry Potter) in supporting roles.

The story starts in the town of Keighley in Western Yorkshire where the prestigious British Hairdressing Championship is coming. Tony (Warren Clarke), the mayor of Keighley, is excited about this but no one else seems to care until people start arriving. Among the contestants are Raymond Robertson (Nighy), the two-time defending champion and his daughter Christina (Cook), who is visiting from America. Their primary competition is seen as the Kilburn Kutters with Heidi Klum as their model and the Style Warriors from London. What Ray does not know is that Keighley is the home to his old nemesis Phil Alan (Rickman) who was also a two-time winner until, on the eve of the final competition, his stylist/wife (Richardson) ran off with his model (Griffiths), leaving him with a young son and no way to compete.

Phil now works as a barber with his son Brian (Hartnett) in Keighley. His ex-wife Shelley and her partner Sandra own a beauty salon in the town called A Cut Above. Phil has ignored them for ten years, never speaking to them.

Shelley wants to enter the competition. She has incurable cancer and has not told anyone. She’s told Sandra it has been cured. Only Daisy (Rosemary Harris), a blind old woman she does the hair of, knows her secret. Shelley wants Brian to help with the men’s timed cut, but he is reluctant to do it for fear of alienating his father.

Robertson makes the mistake of visiting Phil and talking about the competition, and Phil gets mad and agrees to let Brian help. Brian is fascinated by Christina, whom he remembers from the old contests when they were both kids. Robertson really wants the third win and he is not above cheating to get it.

In many ways this is a predictable film. There is anger and hostility from Phil but he eventually comes around. There is a come- from-behind victory and the reuniting of Phil, Shelley, Sandra and Brian as a family. And, yes, here are also some bizarre hairstyles.

One of my favorite bits has Christina trying to improve her hair coloring. Her attempts have not pleased Ray, so Brian offers to help her by taking her to the funeral home where he regularly cuts the hair of the recently deceased. She colors the hair of an old man bright red with Sid Vicious spikes. But, before she can return his hair to its natural color, Christina and Brian get locked out of the funeral home. The old man’s family is not amused when they arrive the next day.

The wonderfully quirky script was written by Simon Beaufoy who was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for The Full Monty. He subsequently won on Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. Warren Clarke delivers a fine performance as the mayor who gets more and more into the competition. It culminates with him lip-syncing over the closing credits to the Elvis Presley song “I Just Can’t Help Believing.” The soundtrack includes Bill Withers, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Roger Whitaker, Santa Esmeralda and Jackie Wilson.

One odd thing I did notice is that the DVD features both Hartnett and Cook on the cover while the movie poster just has a model. If you did not know it, you would not know Rickman was in the movie unless you read the fine print. Poor packaging in my opinion.

According to Wikipedia this film got blasted when it was released and only earned a score of 19% from Rotten Tomatoes. I’m not sure what film those critics saw, but I loved this one and the people I have shared it with also loved it. Apparently, it ran in US theaters for 24 days and earned a little more than $600K.

Others will remember Alan Rickman for Die Hard or Harry Potter or Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. I will remember him for those and for Galaxy Quest, too. But I will always remember him with flashing scissors and the amazing tattoos on the soles of his feet in this film.

Check it out. Your mileage and mine may be different but then, so are we. RIP, Alan Rickman. We will all miss you.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.