Lee Grant as Felicia Karpf in Shampoo
Best Supporting Actress at the 48th Annual Oscars (1975)
“My God, Lester, you are a miserable human being.”
George is a hairstylist who, in the course of the movie, sleeps with Jill, Felicia, Jackie, and Lorna. Felicia is Lester’s wife, Jackie is his mistress, and Lorna is his daughter. And this is all happening against the backdrop of Nixon’s 1968 election. If any of that makes sense to you … feel free to explain it to me, please!
First off, Felicia Karpf: best name ever, yes? Felicia’s tale is a classic “money can’t buy you happiness” story: she’s a rich housewife, but she’s miserable. She and her husband are mutually fucking around on each other, but both are resentful and jealous of the other’s affairs. Her teenage daughter hates her, far beyond just the usual teenage angst at one’s parents. Perhaps as a result of her unhappiness, Felicia is a huge dickhead. In her last moments on screen, she hops behind the wheel of her car, and gives her husband a huge grin and the middle finger, before speeding off, never to be seen again.
The other important element of Felicia’s character is that she loves to fuck. That’s not something I would normally devote more than a sentence to, but it’s a central part of her story. Bored horny housewife is not a thrilling archetype to me: Google that in your free time, and leave me out of it, please. It just feels like a reductive cliché, but I do at least appreciate that Felicia’s horniness is mostly off-putting, rather than sexy. It’s so desperate and motivated by her desire to escape her life, just for a moment. Okay, bye Felicia. (Like I was gonna miss a chance to say that).
Outside of her role in the sweet Defending Your Life, I went into Shampoo unfamiliar with Lee Grant. Grant herself has a compelling story, coming back from being blacklisted to win an Oscar (Be Kind Rewind has a great video essay about it, and if you like, has many more about women we’ve encountered so far in this column). Sadly, her performance is less compelling to me: I blame the movie, which I struggled to really get into, because she never got a moment or scene that hooked me in the way that I wanted to.
Still, there’s an intelligence to Grant’s performance that I like. She understands Felicia’s frustrations with the world, and is able to bring this whacked out pill lady energy to the character. I also love the darkness that she gives Felicia: she feels very slithery and conniving. But ultimately, it’s hard for me to pull out any particular parts of the film in which she’s really showcased.
Shampoo is another chaotic 70s sex farce. It’s supposedly a deep satire, but I was never able to figure out what it was purporting to satirize. Sexual attitudes? Rich people? I guess something to do with Nixon, since it takes place on his election night? Literally, I have no idea. It’s a very meandering film, that feels every minute of its length. I almost want to watch it for a class so that a professor can explain it to me, but I’d also prefer never to watch it again, sooo …
Was the Oscar deserved?
I hate to say it, but no, I didn’t get this one.