Patton Oswalt, J.K. Simmons and Lena Dunham Steal the Show at Jason Reitman's 'Shampoo' Reading

Kate Hudson, Bradley Cooper and Olivia Wilde at LACMA's "Shampoo" (Credit: Jesse Grant/Wireimage.com)
Kate Hudson, Bradley Cooper and Olivia Wilde at LACMA's "Shampoo" (Credit: Jesse Grant/Wireimage.com)
 

Despite the cold, a sold-out crowd stood in line all the way around the Bing Theater at LACMA Jan. 19 for Film Independent's reading of the script for Robert Towne's and Warren Beatty's 1975 sex satire Shampoo by big names like Kate Hudson and Bradley Cooper. Jason Reitman, the inventor of LACMA's monthly, always sold-out "Live Read" program, told the audience, "You are the only people who will ever see this!" Video was forbidden, freeing the stars to let their hair down unrehearsed. It felt like a party game.

It was worth seeing, even though Shampoo is trickier to read aloud than previous Live Read hits The Breakfast Club or The Princess Bride. With the actors seated in a row onstage instead of rolling around in bed, it's hard to keep track of who's doing who in the sexual hexagon (octagon?), even with the help of stills from the film projected above their heads (with the original cast digitally erased, leaving the settings) and Reitman's highly entertaining stage directions, like: "He leaps on top of her ... she likes it."

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In the movie, a horny hairdresser (Beatty) strives to please his girlfriend (Goldie Hawn), his mistress (Lee Grant), his beloved ex-girlfriend (Julie Christie), and a rich investor (Jack Warden). The investor is boinking the hairdresser's ex (Christie). He thinks the hairdresser is gay; actually, the hairdresser is boinking the investor's wife (Grant) and the investor's extremely horny young daughter (Carrie Fisher, who once told me dating Beatty was "a phase all women go through").

Hudson had oodles of giggly charm in the role her mom Hawn created, but Hawn's character was seriously pissed off by being cheated on, while Hudson came off almost like her Almost Famous groupie character -- the good time had by all, not the stern voice of conscience. The whole reading lacked the melancholy punch of the film, and the fierce political-disillusionment subtext Beatty brought to the script. So what? The night was a blast, partly because Hudson brought a sweet, wood-sprite spirit all her own to the role. In 1975, Hawn was trying to live down a bubbly image with a sober role; Thursday night, Hudson was just living it up with the rest of the exceedingly cool cast.

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As the hairdresser, Cooper did a sort of combination of a Hangover guy and a pretty good impression of Beatty's sheepish, eloquent mumbling. No depth or shading, like Beatty's immortal performance, but lotsa laffs. Diane Lane fluffed a line or two in the Lee Grant role, but that was about as bad as dropping a tortilla chip at a party -- nobody minds a crumb on the rug if what you say is cracking them up. Olivia Wilde didn't quite have Julie Christie's icy fire and intellectual charisma, but the girl's got game, and mad timing skills. She helped pull off the script's most famous line, the bit where an executive tells her "I think I can get you whatever you'd like" and she replies, "Well, more than anything else, I'd like to suck his c---." 

Reitman got one of the night's best laughs with the dry irony of his reading of the subsequent stage direction, "She slips right under the table; it's a surprisingly fluid move." But what really sold the bit was the water-bottle spit take Patton Oswalt did in response to Wilde's startling fellatio line. Oswalt, who's at least as good as Charlize Theron in Reitman's Young Adult, was consistently among the best live readers of Shampoo. He's funny even when he's not speaking, and he speaks in many voices. He was able to steal the scene from Cooper because unlike Beatty in the film, Cooper was just sitting onstage, not at a table with a drunk woman tugging at his zipper under the tablecloth while being glared at by angry fellow diners. Oswalt's spat water was the most dramatic action of the evening.

After the performance, Lena Dunham tweeted, "Hey @pattonoswalt thanks for coaching me before the live read of Shampoo @ LACMA. You should teach VOICE & STYLE." She learned her lesson, because her chirpy, ruthlessly concupiscent take on the Carrie Fisher daughter role was funnier than Fisher's original (which won Fisher her first big attention). Dunham, the star auteur of HBO's randy Girls, is a comedienne to watch. Droll Nick Kroll aced the oily part of a film director in quest of a casting couch (and at least one other small role). J.K. Simmons, master of the sarcastic deadpan, absolutely killed in the Jack Warden cuckolded investor role, and did the best job of capturing some of the script's poignance. An old, clueless guy humiliated by young libertines in 1968, he's the only one who fully realizes the party is about to be over for everybody.

Cooper didn't quite summon the defiant sorrow in the hairdresser's final confession that a zipless hookup "makes me feel like I'm gonna live forever," but the comedy he nailed as wholeheartedly as his character nails his clients. It's great that Reitman's Shampoo only lasted maybe 80 minutes instead of forever. Many people doubted that Film Independent at LACMA curator Elvis Mitchell could deliver the goods in his tough new job, but with help from Reitman and his eminent friends, he seems to have a perpetual hit machine on his hands with this series. Long live Live Read. But just don't get there late or you'll never get in.

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