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Episode 34 - Blow Dry

posted Mar 24, 2018, 9:13 PM by Joreth InnKeeper   [ updated Sep 6, 2018, 5:24 PM ]

Blow Dry (2001)
www.imdb.com/title/tt0212380/ - Internet Movie Data Base
https://amzn.to/2I2eF8o - Amazon

I don't know where this movie came from.  Did you know that the Netflix DVD queue has a limit?   I forget what it is now, but I've maxed it out.   On more than one occasion.  It's around 500 DVDs.  Eventually, movies become unavailable on Netflix, and if it's in your queue when this happens, they get moved out of the queue and into another queue of movies "waiting" to be added back to Netflix, freeing up a slot on my regular queue for more movies.

Other movies have not yet been added to the Netflix library but they somehow use the User interest to help them get the rights?   I don't know if it actually does something to get the rights, or if it just tells them how to gauge what movies they should be fighting for, or what. I've been a Netflix member for so many years, and their system has changed so many times, that honestly I can't remember which of these movies used to be available and isn't now, and which never were but Netflix gave me the opportunity to express interest in.

A few months ago, I took a peek at my "waiting" queue and I was shocked at how long it had gotten.  With Netflix cycling out so many movies every month, I got concerned that some of these movies would never make it into the queue, or back into the queue.  So I went searching for a bunch of alternative sources.

Usually, when a movie has been in my queue long enough, I forget why I put it there.  It could be a potential poly movie, or it could be a skeptic movie, or it could be a Netflix recommendation based on something else I added, or it could be something that someone recommended for totally unrelated reasons.  But I can often guess why I put it on the queue based on what was added just before or just after it, since I'll often add similar movies in batches.   Without that associative reminder, though, I may have a movie here without really remembering why I have it.

All that to say that I had no fucking idea why I had this movie lying around, so tonight I watched it just so I could identify it and move it to an appropriate place (the trash bin, if I didn't like it, or my movie shelf, or one of my collections, for instance).

When it started up, I had even less fucking idea why I had this movie lying around.  I couldn't tell if this was satire or serious?  It reminds me of Cuban Fury, in that way.   Cuban Fury is supposed to be a satirical dance movie, but even though it's poking fun at dance movies, it turned out to be actually a good dance movie with some really amazing salsa dancing.  It's less satirical in that over-the-top Saturday Night Live kinda way, and more satirical in that "we know that we're making fun of a genre but we're going to do it utterly seriously", Shaun of the Dead sort of way.

Blow Dry struck me as the latter sort of movie.   It's about a national hair styling competition in Britain, staring ... aw, shit, who isn't it starring?  Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Rachel Leigh Cook, Josh Hartnett, Bill Nighy, Warren Clarke, Rosemary Harris, Peter McDonald, and freaking Heidi Klum.  A tiny, pissant of a British town who doesn't give two shits about high fashion or hair wins the rights to host this national hair competition.  So all the pompous, Capital City-esque hair designers come to the sticks in their gold lame and glitter (much to the total apathy of the townsfolk) including the trite and overdone Villain - a hair dressing diva who is legitimately talented but not above resorting to dirty tricks to ensure that he wins the trophy.

The opening scenes were so ... Hairspray / A Dirty Shame / John Waters campy that I spent the first several minutes just boggling over why I thought this was important enough to acquire in the first place. But I liked Hairspray (the original), and I liked Cuban Fury, so I kept watching.

The basic plot is that Alan Rickman's character, Phil, used to be a star hairdresser with his wife, Shelley a decade ago, until Shelley ran away with their model, Sandra.   Now, Phil, a devastated and bitter man, cuts men's hair in his barber shop with his son in this town as far away from the glamorous hair lifestyle as possible.   Shelly runs her own salon with Sandra in the same town, and is estranged from their son, Brian, because of his dad's bitterness about being left by his wife on the eve of the big competition 10 years ago.

On the day that the mayor of the town makes the big announcement that they will be hosting that year's national hair dressing championships, Shelley gets the news from her doctor that her cancer is no longer in remission and they have exhausted all the options other than to make what time she has left comfortable.  Shelley gets some advice from an old woman whose hair she does regularly, to tie up her loose ends while she can, so that she's not like the old woman's husband who just dropped dead without even giving his wife a chance to say goodbye.

So Shelley, without telling anyone about her diagnosis, decides to try and get her family back together by entering the competition.  Unlike the SNL style of satire movies, there were no "and hijinks ensue" plot lines.   It was a very standard, seriously done plot (if a goofy premise) where the protagonists face a series of challenges that the villain tries to rig, ending with the two teams that we give a shit about entering the final challenge neck-and-neck, only the protagonists are missing / thwarted / led astray!  Who will win?  It could be anyone!   Or, y'know, the protagonists with a last-minute save, because that's how this plot line works.

So, why am I doing an episode on this movie?  There's nothing about this that says "poly" so far, and I made it to this final challenge still not knowing why I had the movie at all.  Until the "pep talk before the final challenge that puts the protagonist back in the game" scene.  Which means that I'm about to spoiler the end of this movie, but honestly, you already know how this movie turns out because of the genre it's in.

SPOILERS:

Shelley has been hiding her diagnosis from her partner, Sandra.   In the middle of one of the conflicts earlier in the film, Shelley reveals her diagnosis to her ex-husband and son.  When Brian, her son, asks why she just told them and not Sandra, Shelley says that she can tell them because they don't care about her (as evidenced by Phil's biting snark and Brian's moody recalcitrance), but Sandra cares so much that telling her would rip her heart out.

One night, while practicing for the next day's challenges, and being forcibly reminded yet again through Phil's bitter condescension of her worthlessness, Sandra walks in on Shelley throwing up and just *knows* that the cancer is back and that Shelley lied to her when she said her latest tests came back "all clear".  Sandra, the hair model for the competition, throws everyone out and quits the competition, going home to her mother at the edge of town.  With no model, with Phil refusing to join in the first place and only giving criticism, and with Brian's challenges already over, Shelley also throws in the towel.  She decides that this team is broken and gives up trying.

After an epiphany, Phil finally gets off his sore ass and decides to move past all the hurt he's been grudgingly clinging to all these years.  He finally understands that Shelley never wanted to win the competition, that she really just wanted to put her family back together, to heal the hurt she helped to cause all those years ago and to be a support network for herself and for each other in the coming difficulty.

Phil goes to speak to Sandra.  At this point, there's still nothing poly about it. He could very easily just be trying to bury the hatchet with his former model so that they're not constantly bickering and pulling at Shelley like a tug-of-war game.  But two things happen:  Earlier in the movie, Phil expresses hurt that Shelley left him for a woman, that he could have gotten over it if only it had been another bloke.   Shelley says, very pointedly, that there has *never* been another bloke for her, and there still isn't [long, pointed, significant look from Shelley, followed by confused and then dawning look from Phil].

Now, Phil has a talk with Sandra, his dearest love's lover.  He tries to talk her into coming back, for Shelley's sake. [inserted movie clip where Phil makes amends with Sandra]

There.   Right there.   "It's not me she needs, it's you."  "Maybe it's neither. It's us. ... Has to be worth a shot?"  Now, for most monogamous audiences, there's nothing inherently poly in this either.  Ex-spouses remain part of the family all the time, especially when there are children involved.  And admitting to an ex-spouse that he is the only person of his gender that one has ever loved also doesn't *necessarily* mean that that she still loves him *in the same way* as she did back then, or that there is an implied promise of a future together.  Especially, given her rather short expiration date.

But something that I've been arguing about for nearly 20 years now, since way before this whole Relationship Anarchy thing came up, is that who is having sex with whom is not the most important criteria for "family", and that it's "family" that really makes polyamory different from other forms of non-monogamy.  Polyamory has been used interchangeably with "intentional family" since the word was coined, what with the neo-pagan movement that coined it explicitly creating the culture around the idea of "intentional family".

So, we can argue all day about where the line is drawn - what makes it "polyamory" when you take the sex and romance out of the equation and just talk about "love" and "family" - but in the end, where that very specific line is drawn isn't really the point.  This podcast is even named "Poly-ISH Movie Reviews", and one lover being spurned for another, only to have both of them reach an understanding that their mutual love needs them both and that family is the important lesson here, is about as poly as it gets.

The poly content is ambiguous.   And I'd be willing to bet actual money that the writer, director, and all the actors did NOT interpret any of this as leading to a polyamorous family.  But all of my poly lessons came from my own Christian, hetero, monogamous family (which I write about in my blog, if you're interested on how *that* works out).  So, with the level of ambiguity, I'm going to deliberately interpret this as a poly-ish movie.

I choose to believe that the implications of Shelley's admission earlier about Phil being the one and only "bloke" for her, and his later suggestion to Sandra that they give "us" a try, *could lead* to a poly family.   With Shelley's illness, sex and romance are not going to be defining features of her future anyway.  What she will need is emotional support.   This is the "worse" part of "for better or for worse" and the literal "sickness" part of "in sickness and in health" and is the ultimate challenge of "until death do we part".

Sex and romance is great and all, but what good is "family" if not for the hard stuff?   Why bother calling our groups "family" or "tribe" or any of the other words we use if the only thing that makes them significant is the sex or the romance?  Polyamory certainly isn't the only relationship style that values "family", even extended or non-traditional ones like in this movie. Plenty of versions of monogamy do that too, even.

But it's a value that we claim is integral to our relationship style, a value that we use as a motivation for what we do.   So I'm letting the ambiguity in this film point me in the direction of a poly-ish future for these characters, short though it may be.  And, who knows?  Maybe Sandra and Phil will become family again on their own after Shelley is gone, not opposing forces tied together through a mutual pivot point and likely to drift apart on their own momentum without that pivot point holding them together.  They did, after all, have a close friendship through their model / hairdresser relationship before all the hurt.

If you don't think that the ambiguity is enough to justify calling it a "poly-ish movie", that's fine.  This is not one of those cases where I'm out to convince people to change their minds.  *I* felt it was poly-ish and I'm content with the nebulous, indeterminate quality of that conclusion.  I'll be including it on my list. If you like campy, if you like that satire-but-actually-kinda-serious style of "comedy", and if you like Alan Rickman, I recommend this movie.



You've been reading Poly-ish Movie Reviews, with your host, Joreth, where I watch the crap so you don't have to!