“I’m more man than you’ll ever be, and more woman than you’ll ever get!”
Car Wash is an iconic movie that represents a very specific moment in cinema history. At least, that’s what I assumed. It’s a movie I assumed I knew a little bit about and assumed I knew what I was in for. The opening credits confirmed some of my assumptions when I saw the names George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Franklin Ajaye. I knew I was in for some counter culture rule breaking. But not the hippy counter culture of the 60s. I mean the real deal, the gritty counter culture of the 70s. At least, that’s what I assumed. But once I actually started to watch Car Wash, all I could wonder was how has it lived on at all in the years since its release.
With the movie opening as the titular business does, it was pretty clear from the get go that this was one of those day-in-the-life-of movies. In this case, it’s a day in the life of a Los Angeles car wash, its many colourful employees, and various other people who come in contact with them through the course of a work day.
There’s honky owner Mr B (Sully Boyar) and his college graduate, Mao Zedong worshipping son, Irwin (Richard Brestoff). There’s the pimped out car washer with big dreams, T.C (Ajaye). There’s the local evangelist preacher and obvious con man, Daddy Rich (Pryor). There’s resident hard working, humble everyman, Lonnie (Ivan Dixon). There’s out and proud gay man, Lindy (Antonio Fargas). There’s confused, fast talking cab driver (George Carlin) and there’s probably another dozen or so key characters who I was never able to differentiate.
Now that I have seen Car Wash, I really have absolutely no idea why it’s a movie I was even aware existed 40 odd years after its release. Maybe it was ground breaking or revolutionary at the time. But if so, I can’t really see why. It’s certainly not funny enough or interesting enough to have become a hit purely on those merits. It must have pushed some buttons or boundaries at the time to get noticed.
I’ll say this much about Car Wash, it has a catchy as shit theme song. So catchy that I wouldn’t be surprised of it is the only reason the movie caught on back in the day and is remembered at all today. Because the rest of this shaggy dog, all over the shop, mess of a movie offers no reasons for it to be remembered. Even Richard Pryor is forgettable and boring in this thing. Sure, he was phoning it in, doing the absolute minimum while hopped up on crack, but it takes a really bland movie to make Richard Pryor uninteresting.