Shelley Allen (Natasha Richardson) operates a hairdressing shop in Keighley with her domestic partner Sandra (Rachel Griffiths). Shelley has been battling cancer, a secret known only to Sandra and a few confidants. She receives a terminal prognosis from her oncologist and decides to hide the truth from Sandra. When Keighley is chosen to host the British hairdressing championship, Shelley wants to participate one last time. She asks her ex-husband Phil (Alan Rickman) and her son Brian (Josh Hartnett), who operate a barber shop, to join her and Sandra as a team to enter the competition. Phil rejects the proposition: ten years previously Shelley had been his partner in the competition, and she ran off with Sandra (their model) the night before the third event; Phil has never forgiven them. Meanwhile, defending champion Raymond Robertson (Bill Nighy) visits Phil to ensure that Phil is not competing. Brian is offput when Raymond belittles Phil's confidence and ability. When he is attracted to Raymond's beautiful daughter Christina (Rachael Leigh Cook), Brian offers to join Shelley's team.
Christina aspires to be a hair colorist, but lacks experience. Brian brings her to a funeral parlor where he works, where she can practice on one of the corpses after hours while Brian cuts its hair. Christina is startled when the corpse "groans" (expels trapped gas in the lungs) and flees into the street. Brian follows to console her and inadvertently allows the doors to lock behind them. The next morning the family of the deceased is displeased to find shocking pink spiky hair on their 95-year-old uncle. During the first round of the competition, Brian is cornered by the relatives of the deceased and is physically beaten.
Shelley reveals to Phil and Brian that she has terminal cancer. Phil reconsiders and agrees to coach but not to cut. After Raymond's team successfully cheats in the first round, Phil sabotages a second attempt in the second round, allowing the other top teams to narrow the gap to Raymond. Christina gains coloring experience using the sheep of the family that assaulted Brian. Brian however disowns her when he realizes she is helping Raymond cheat.
The night before the third round, Sandra learns that Shelley's cancer is terminal. Angry that Shelley lied to her, she quits the team. Shelley recruits one of her clients as the model for the third round and wins, moving the team into second place overall. Phil is congratulatory, but Shelley reveals that her motivation was not to win – she wanted the team effort to bond the four of them into a family before she dies. Phil agrees to participate in the final round; he also talks Sandra into rejoining the team. Christina cuts off most of her hair so that she cannot participate in her father's scheme for the final round, and she and Brian reconcile.
In the last round, Phil's novel design includes shaving Sandra's head to reveal an old scalp tattoo and applying body paint to her naked, winged body. The result snatches them the overall victory by one point. Shelley, Sandra, Phil, Brian and Christina leave the competition arm-in-arm as Keighley celebrates a hometown winner.Alan Rickman as Phil Allen
Natasha Richardson as Shelley Allen
Rachel Griffiths as Sandra
Rachael Leigh Cook as Christina Robertson
Josh Hartnett as Brian Allen
Bill Nighy as Ray (Raymond) Robertson
Warren Clarke as Tony
Rosemary Harris as Daisy
Heidi Klum as Jasmine
Peter Kay as Cyrill The Bar Man
Blow Dry was released in American cinemas on 9 March 2001. The UK premiere was on 30 March 2001 in Keighley and Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, where the story was set and filmed. Releases in other countries followed between May 2001 and May 2002, including on 21 June 2001 in the Czech Republic, 26 July 2001 in Germany and 18 April 2002 in Hungary.
The release of Blow Dry was delayed when The Big Tease, a similarly themed film about the world champion hair competition, came out in 2000.
Blow Dry opened in North America on 9 March 2001, grossing over US$240,000 in 157 theaters on its opening weekend, and ended its 24-day theatrical run in North America with total grosses of $637,769, as of 8 April 2001. It went on to gross a further $10,205 in the Czech Republic (as of 8 July 2001), $164,372 in Germany (as of 12 August 2001) and $17,940 in Hungary (as of 24 April 2002).
The critical response to the film was generally negative. As of May 2012, review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives Blow Dry an approval rating of 19% based on reviews from 64 critics, reporting a rating average of 4 out of 10, and describes the critical consensus to be that the film is "[h]eartwarming, but over-the-top and too formulaic". At Metacritic, the film holds a Metascore, a weighted average score, of 38 (out of 100) based on 19 reviews.