Thanks to Ryan McQuade for his review request and his Patreon support.
The story of a hairdressing Lothario is not just a loose autobiography of Warren Beatty’s life, but also segues into the sadness and lack of understanding that ushered in the 1970s. A dated picture, particularly in its views of women, but one that emphasizes people need to stop screwing around (literally and figuratively) and focus on what’s important.
George Roundy (Warren Beatty) is a successful Beverly Hills hairdresser with a problem: He has sex with every woman he meets. This, of course, puts him at odds with his sweet girlfriend, Jill (Goldie Hawn). When George gets involved with a rising politician (Jack Warden) and the politician’s girlfriend (Julie Christie), George ignites a powder keg threatening to explode the eve of the 1968 election.
Hal Ashby wouldn’t make his Vietnam epic, Coming Home, for another three years. Shampoo acts as a peppy precursor with its focus on a man defined by his ability to ensnare women. It’s laughable to see Warren Beatty’s name on the script because, of course, he wrote the script; the movie is practically his life! George Roundy has a new woman on his arm all the time, he’s sleeping with three women at once, and every time he goes somewhere he’s propositioned. It’s easy to understand why women want him and men want to be him because Shampoo is the ultimate male fantasy. This doesn’t help women, despite being made during the height of second-wave feminism.
You have three female characters played by Lee Grant, Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn. As an aside, Julie Christie didn’t want to make the film because, as a feminist, she couldn’t stand her character. She did the film as a favor to Beatty, who was her lover at the time. I understand Christie’s frustration at the character of Jackie, but the women have their moment to shine by the end. Goldie Hawn, in particular, could have easily become a swooning doormat. Jill is the one who stays by George; who believes and encourages him. With that encouragement, George constantly cheats on her and has little interest in her feelings. For all of George’s “free love” and desire to follow the American dream, he’s completely disillusioned to relationships and what love actually means. Jill is the idealistic embodiment of the happy ‘60s and Hawn is perfect casting. By the end, she isn’t broken, but uses her disappointment in George to follow her own dreams (possibly a nod to Women’s Lib and telling women to let go of male attachments).
Julie Christie’s Jackie is the one torn between the befuddled conservative, Lester, and George. George doesn’t love Jackie, but sees her as his last great hope; a symbol of “what could have been.” She’s assertive, feisty, and everything you love about Julie Christie, but she’s not embodying a woman you necessarily like. Case in point, despite Jill being her best friend Jackie willingly sleeps with George. By the end, Jackie goes off with Lester and leaves George in the dust, literally and figuratively.
The two competing men in this movie are extrapolated within the movie’s atmosphere: the 1968 Presidential Election. The two competitors were Richard Nixon – who embodied the disillusionment of the 1970s with the Watergate scandal – and Spiro Agnew. Jack Warden’s lasciviously named Lester is a befuddled politician who has no idea what’s going on in his own home, or at least isn’t willing own up to it (a nod to Nixon’s failure to accept responsibility for his actions) while George is the idealistic young man who believes by sexing his way through life, enjoying all the youth and beauty he can while he can, will “make me feel immortal.” When George is left in the dirt at the end; no girl, a job in jeopardy, he becomes the “also-ran.” He is the Spiro Agnew of the film who’s lost everything to his own Richard Nixon.
Shampoo isn’t a perfect movie. The thing to enjoy is the sheer ebullience that exudes from the sexy cast. Beatty has never been more charming, Hawn more adorable, or Christie more sexually potent (and she nabs the award for most inappropriate dinner conversation). It shows how far America strayed from the happy world created by the British Beatles once upon a time.