This satirical take on the degradation of ‘60s counter-culture contains genuine insight, positioning Nixon’s election – seven years prior to filming – as the death knell for hippies. The narrative uses the election as backdrop rather than focus, however, centring its story on the collaborations and copulations of lothario hairdresser George (Warren Beatty; the synchronicity between character and actor is impossible to miss).
George fucks every woman he meets; including the mistress (Julie Christie), wife (Lee Grant) and daughter (Carrie Fisher) of Republican businessman Lester (Jack Warden), who George hopes will finance his salon. Shampoo’s allegory matures into a stinging excoriation of bohemian politics; Lester and George’s intertwined sex lives criticising the corporate co-option and corruption of hippy ideals (reinforced in the third act, which sees Lester stumble gleefully through a party filled with flower children and strobe lights).
The lack of identification with George limits Shampoo’s emotional effectiveness; as a symbol of the inefficacy of the counter-culture he’s effective (though he states that he’s not anti-establishment), but he’s not an engaging protagonist. Compare to McCabe and Mrs Miller, which is effective as allegory but gives fuller characters for both Beatty and Christie to play and is a better film for it.