*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**SPOILERS** Publicists billed "Shampoo" as a comedy, and critics called it a satire;
actually, it's a romantic tragedy: a film about decisions we'd rather not
have to make. The hero's tragic flaw is that he can't make up his mind, and
the heroine's is that she can. Hal Ashby set his film on election day, 1968,
when America had to make a decision amidst the epistemological turmoil of
the times and chose Richard Nixon (an act that could be read as the
beginning of the end of the Sixties, and at the least makes a good metaphor
George is a Beverly Hills hair dresser whom women love for more than his skill with a blow-dryer. Warren Beatty conveys the character perfectly: sleeping with virtually every woman who crosses his path, he never seems lecherous, chauvinist or even condescending. He simply loves women, and he can't bear to disappoint them (or let one get away). His life consists largely of trying to avoid the need ever to say, "No."
Of course, this does produce comic moments. When Jill (Goldie Hawn) stumbles upon George making love to her best friend in the boat house at a party, he looks up and without missing a beat says, "Honey, where have you been? We've been looking all over for you." A bit later, though, in a rambling, revealing speech, he's at a loss to explain himself in the terms Jill expects. What can it mean that he sleeps with so many women? "I see a beautiful girl... and it makes me feel like I'm gonna live forever... Maybe that means I don't love 'em. Maybe it means I don't love you, I don't know. Nobody's gonna tell me I don't like 'em very much."
Eventually, George makes a commitment --- probably his first --- when he asks Jackie (Julie Christie) to marry him. He and Jackie have known each other a long time; they were once lovers. Now he's finally come to the realization that even among the things one loves, some are more important than others. "I don't trust anyone but you," he says. They embrace, and the bond between them is heartbreaking. But Jackie has told Lester (Jack Warden) she will go away with him; he's left his wife and proposed marriage. She runs from George because, if she walked, she might not get far enough before her resolve gave way.
In the closing scene of Shampoo, George stands alone. Silhouetted on a Los Angeles hillside, he stands like an icon of the things we leave behind when life offers us no other choice but to grow up. The background music is a wordless version of the theme Paul Simon later recorded as "Silent Eyes" --- which cuts to The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" when the credits roll.
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