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The Big Tease

Director: Kevin Allen
Cast: Craig Ferguson, Frances Fisher, Mary McCormack

(Warner Bros.; 2000)

Less is More

U.S. film audiences know Scotland as the damp, cold, and hilly home of blue-faced barbarians (Braveheart) and heroin-addled twentysomethings (Trainspotting). The Big Tease would like to expand such conceptions of the Scottish people to include irrepressible and flamboyant hair stylists. Rather than facing the grim oppression of English monarchs or drug addiction, the film’s protagonist pits his stereotypical Scottish tenacity against the pitfalls of split ends and the horrors of bad hair days.


The Big Tease follows Crawford Mackenzie (played by The Drew Carey Show‘s Craig Ferguson), the self-proclaimed finest hairstylist in Glasgow, as he travels to Los Angeles to compete in the World Freestyle Hairdressing Championship. Accompanying Crawford is a documentary team, filming the stylist’s exploits for British television. Through the team’s camera, we watch Crawford run into obstacle after obstacle in his quest to become the world’s best hairdresser, not the least of which is the revelation that he was only invited to participate as a spectator and not as a competitor. In the cinematic tradition of his countrymen’s overcoming great odds, however, Crawford is determined not only to gain entry into the contest but to win it outright. After all, if William Wallace and a handful of highlanders can destroy the entire city of York, surely Crawford can defeat the bureaucracy of the World Hairdressing International Federation (W.H.I.F.).


The Big Tease offers up a mocking critique of the rugged machismo that has come to characterize Scottish representation in popular cinema. From Sean Connery’s seemingly ageless masculinity to the comic aggression of Mike Meyer’s Saturday Night Live Scottish soccer hooligan (who remind us, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!”) and his Fat Bastard in Austin Powers 2, Scottish men have repeatedly been shown as exaggerated testaments to testosterone. Crawford Mackenzie, however, gleefully embraces both his homosexual {and his Scottish identity} and describes himself at one point as “Braveheart meets Liberace.” Whether adorned in tight-fitting plaid pants or a flowing kilt, Ferguson’s Crawford is an energetic refutation of the Scottish male stereotype, portraying an openly gay protagonist where manly fighters and heterosexual lovers have come before.


Despite Ferguson’s performance, however, The Big Tease‘s “mockumentary” strategy distracts from the strong, funny performances of the film’s actors, such as Crawford’s Norwegian nemesis, the flowing-haired Stig (played by David Rasche) or a helpful talent agent named Candy (Frances Fisher). This really isn’t clear until the end of the film, when the strategy is dropped and Crawford’s story is concluded through conventional camera work. In reality, the story of a gay Scottish hairdresser running around Los Angeles in a bid to win the Platinum Scissors trophy is enough to drive a ninety-minute comedy. The addition of the documentary crew seems unnecessary and adds few additional laughs. The truly funny mockumentaries, such as Waiting for Guffman or the Belgian cult favorite Man Bites Dog, are funny because their subjects are so serious about themselves. The Big Tease offers a range of performances — from over-the-top to relatively “straight” — that comment on each other without the unwieldy addition of a fake camera crew.


The cast of The Big Tease is a large one, bringing together a great number of actors and actresses with familiar if not precisely famous faces. You may remember Fisher as Kate Winslet’s imperious mother in Titanic or the DA in True Crime, but the W.H.I.F. executive maybe be more difficult (she’s Mary McCormack, Howard Stern’s wife in Private Parts and the dead reporter in True Crime). Crawford’s sleazy limo driver is played by Donal Logue (who was the greasy-haired cab driver in a spate of commercials for MTV) and Candy’s receptionist by the always Sara Gilbert (Darlene on Roseanne). All four give crisp, believable, and understated performances that work to complement Craig Ferguson’s more flamboyant lead, treating him seriously and providing a comparatively low key — even vaguely realistic — context, even if they do live in Los Angeles. These performances also underline that the movie is not ridiculing Crawford, but rather, the narrow lineage of exaggerated masculinity that has long been associated with the Scottish nationality. Ultimately, however, the actors’s commendable work is too often undercut by a documentary apparatus that opts for a prat-falling cameraman and a deadpan interviewer over more substantial considerations of celebrity culture.


This investigation seems consigned to the film’s many cameos by the kind of “superstars” one would expect to find schmoozing in the finest salons of L.A. Among the renowned faces are Craig Ferguson’s sitcom-mate Drew Carey, Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, Cathy Lee Crosby, Melissa Rivers, and the ubiquitous David Hasselhoff. In addition to these beautiful people are more beautiful people, models Veronica Webb and Kylie Bax and the men who make them beautiful, John Paul Dejoria and Jose Eber. Watching The Big Tease is akin to watching the E! channel for any length of time, as both celebrate celebrity in all its glittery forms. The difference is that The Big Tease can laugh at the lifestyles of LA’s rich and famous, while E! treats celebrities with unadulterated adulation.


Despite its strong cast and many cameos, The Big Tease is exactly what it’s title suggests, only flirting with the kind of comedy that would have been possible through less roundabout storytelling. By relying on the fashionable gimmick of the mockumentary, the film falls victim to the same trap of style over substance found in Los Angeles and hair salons worldwide. Rather than follow the example of its style-conscious subjects as a mockumentary, though, The Big Tease would do well to drop the strategy and follow another fashion cliche: “less is more.”

Tobias Peterson served as PopMatters' Sport Editors and columnist (From the Cheap Seats). He holds an MA in English Literature (with a concentration in Cultural Studies) from George Mason University, where he studied representations of race in professional basketball.


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