Milos Forman’s film adaptation of the surprise hit stage musical Hair is a curious one. On one hand, Forman does a pretty good job bringing Galt MacDermot’s musical numbers to life, with visually interesting staging and competent usage of New York City locations. On the other, the tone of the film is fundamentally out of whack. The musical’s book by Gerome Ragni and James Rado doesn’t have much narrative thrust, and the screenplay by Michael Weller significantly alters things to make up for that here.
The result is a Hair with all of its subversive qualities neutered, and in their place, a sensibility more akin to an ’80s comedy than an anti-war satire. When a band of hippies led by George Berger (Treat Williams) crash a high society formal event, the film embraces broad snobs-vs.-slobs comedy, and when the gang tries to wreak havoc on an army base, it seems like a proto-Stripes. The film is far more silly than sardonic, which makes it abruptly sobering ending feel hastily tacked on.
There are some pleasures to be found, like the performance of John Savage as Oklahoman Claude Bukowski, a Vietnam draftee who makes a stop in New York City before his deployment to basic training. He falls in with Berger and his pals, who have other ideas about what his future should entail, including the pursuit of socialite Sheila Franklin (Beverly D’Angelo), who Claude falls for after a glimpse in the park.
Savage does wide-eyed and stubborn well, and his embrace of the hippie’s lifestyle feels believable, especially when he ultimately decides he has to go to war anyway. Berger leads a cross-country mission to save his friend from Vietnam, but the plan doesn’t work out as expected.
At times, Hair looks like the most beautifully shot (Miroslav Ondricek lenses) National Lampoon movie ever. The high-minded ideals are mostly buried under a mountain of ill-conceived goofiness, and the resulting film just kind of lies there, underwhelming.