Lee Grant won the Oscar from her third nomination for her performance as Felicia Karpf in Shampoo.
Shampoo is a rather lifeless comedy about the life of a womanizing, ambitious hairdresser on the Eve of the 1968 Presidential Election. It's movie I really did not care for on first viewing and I did not like any better this time around: considering the talent of the people involved, it's an incredibly dull experience and I found the picture profoundly unfunny, which is a problem considering it's supposed to be a comedy. Sometimes the movie is lauded as being a great example of sharp satire - well, I would say I really don't share this sentiment as I found the movie's satire to be fairly uninspired. Warren Beatty's leading performance is one of the main problems I have with the movie, as I felt he failed to bring charm or likeability to his leading character making him pretty insufferable to say the least. The rest of the cast is okay I would say, with Goldie Hawn being probably the standout. The Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction is pretty ridiculous.
Lee Grant plays Felicia Karpf, a bored, wealthy woman who carries on an affair with the younger George (Beatty). Grant is not among my favorite actresses ever (she might be a little too calculated for my personal taste) but there's no denying that she has talent and no one could ever accuse her of being lazy in her performances: it's quite exciting to watch her performance in Shampoo because she is so committed to the role and because it's clear that she's trying to give Felicia as much as personality and life as she can. The problem is that in a movie so hollow, in a role so negligible and underwritten and with such a limited screen-time, her efforts feel a bit wasted overall. It's a performance that is occasionally accused of being overly mannered and I definitely can see why - I definitely understand why someone could see her gestures and voice to be a little too much at times, but past a couple of line-deliveries I thought her approach worked for the role. Felicia is a lonely person and I see the artifice in her performance to be intentional actually - it conveys a sense of desperation and longing for attention that is fitting to the character in my opinion. I never found her performance to be a comedic gem or even anything truly funny, but she's quite enjoyable whenever she appears on-screen and at least brings some welcome life to the proceeding. Also, unlike Beatty, she manages to make her character's unlikeable traits somewhat entertaining - Felicia is technically a rather whiny and overbearing character, and she manages to portray these qualities quite well without actually becoming a grating presence.
My issues with the performance don't really come from Grant's acting but rather from the writing of the role: sure, Grant delivers a completely respectable performance but at the same time there is no denying that she has to do next to nothing. Grant does a fine job at suggesting the underlying desperation of the character without compromising the light-hearted nature of her performance , but at the same time this aspect of the character is only slightly hinted at and never really explored in depth. Same goes for Felicia's relationship with her husband Lester, played by Jack Warden in an Oscar-nominated performance: it's never really something that is touched upon, we just assume their marriage is passionless but we never get any sense of a history between the two. Midway through the movie the viewer also finds out that Felicia's daughter Lorna (Carrie Fisher, who is always a welcome presence) hates her, but we never really find out why as the two actresses barely share any screen-time together. Grant' dedication is always quite admirable, but the character is so underwritten it sometimes makes you wonder if she was ever intended as anything more than a plot device (and the answer is likely no).
Her final scenes in the movie are probably the ones I find most remarkable even if I don't think they are anything that great. One problem is the incredibly repetitive writing - by this point in the movie the horny/desperate routine has grown a little bit repetitive and progressively less entertaining. The other problem is that I found her performance to be occasionally a bit overshadowed by Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn, who are given a little more space to develop their character than Grant and also possess a stronger screen-presence than her. But, past that, Grant manages to find some very good moments during the election party scene - she does an effective job at portraying her character's gradual realization of the fact that she's losing both her husband and her lover for the same woman, Jackie (Christie). Her scene opposite Christie in particular is rather memorable, with Grant making the most out of her small reactionary moments. I like that her performance doesn't turn melodramatic towards the end but rather grows colder and quieter - I really like her display of passive-aggressiveness in her final moments with Warden with one line-delivery being particularly golden ("I hope you like Miss Shawn. Because she's going to be very, very expensive"). Her final moment in which she shows the middle finger to Lester is quite amusing even if it's a very brief and uncerimonious ending for the character, reinforcing the idea that the role was never intended to amount to much.
This is a good performance from a talented actress but at the same time I really don't see anything about her work that truly warrants an Oscar nomination - let alone a win. She's more than fine and she is enjoyable whenever she appears, but the limited, underwritten nature of the role prevents her from going far with it. I don't have problems with her execution of the role, but the issue is that the role requires her to do little more than nothing. A respectable achievement, but not something I truly care about.