We all know Morgan Spurlock, right? He exploded onto the indie scene with Super Size Me. In that documentary, Spurlock bravely (and stupidly) showed the physical, mental, and even sexual repercussions of eating McDonald’s 3 times a day for a month. Watching someone’s health take a nose-dive in 30 days was amazing, all the more because you can’t go 2 miles in America without hitting a McD’s.
Now, with several tv and cinematic releases under his belt, Morgan Spurlock directed Mansome. It’s a broad look at how male grooming has evolved in modern culture. Sadly, I got to review what’s, essentially, an unfinished work.
The film begins with a little moment between Will Arnett and Justin Bateman. Both men appear as themselves, but they’re really playing a series of comedy skits about two dudes going for a spa day. These bits reappear often, and these kinda-cute scenes are used to break up the various interviews and concepts that Mansome explores.
Balding celebrities explain how they grew out their mustaches to compensate. Competitive beard growers – yes, there is such a thing – explain the hard work and indignities in the world of extreme facial hair. One section focuses on a Yonkers salon where a 70 year-old can get a custom hair-piece to wear on his 48th wedding anniversary; it’s impossible not to think of The Godfather while you watch it.
Throughout, Mansome takes both a personal and clinical approach to the subject. The historical aspects of hair styles are explained, and I swear I wanted to hear the music from the Museum sequence of To Sir With Love. In its most personal sequence, one man who’s addicted to grooming explains that his family moved from India to the States – that he always felt like an outsider, and that he and his sister gradually lost the accents, clothes, and hair styles common to their parents’ culture.
But Spurlock is respected as a documentarian, in part, for his willingness to become involved with his subject. Not content to be just an outside observer, Morgan decides to remove his nearly-trademark handlebar mustache. After watching the process, we see his adorable 4-ish year old, and the tears that stream down her face when daddy no longer looks like daddy should. The poor dude ends up wearing a mariachi mustache around his little girl; nothing else would stop her from freaking out.
Mansome also briefly recalled Fight Club – people discuss whether the growing male-grooming trend is actually the feminization of men in modern society. The interviewees include women, bodybuilders, old people, young people. Some suggest that the dominant nature of men makes them even more superficial and insecure than women are generally believed to be. However, the picture seems more interested in interviews and conversations than truly developing that theme; in a nutshell, it’s this film’s biggest flaw.
The documentary has some neatly-informative segments. It was put together nicely and is very entertaining at times. But it was also, often as light as air. It doesn’t really delve into the body issues or “modern reimagining of men” that come up, here and there.
A lot of time is given to an incredibly-complicated toupee process – yet we don’t really get to hear a septagenarian explain why he “needs” a piece, what it gives to him, and why he’d want to engage in an obvious deception (his long-time wife, duh, knows he’s bald). Nor do you see younger men say that, for example, women didn’t give him attention after he started thinning. No one who’s a bald- or hair-fetishist discusses the appeal of it. Or the OK Go guy saying that he’s taken off his hat and seem women look at him poorly for a moment…
The potential for something a little profound is easy to see – I was really interested when one man said we want to look like classical Greek statues. It’s amazing to consider that these visions of beauty may have created our modern ideal of the male physique. And I myself have wondered: isn’t it weird that body-builders are supposed to be the “manliest of men,” when they engage in the decided un-manly task of carefully removing all their body hair? When was the Ulysses Grant look in style?
Put it this way: most people watching a documentary expect subjects to be discussed. In this case, it can sometimes feel more like mere description.
Another complaint is that Bateman and Arnett were poorly used – they shouldn’t just have been used for skits. The academic approach suggested by the beginning would’ve worked better, too – especially if the film either removed some sequences, or was an hour longer. In fact, most of the celebrity interviews are terribly light, breezy segments that don’t really open the viewer’s mind to the world of male grooming. John Waters makes a great impression, sure – but most of the big names (mountain man/comedian Zach Galifianakis, especially) seem to be talking out of their @$$.
Spurlock retains his customary charm, tho, and it counts. You can understand his interest in the topic, and you can see the potential here. The most likely explanation is that the director tried for a different style of documentary, and the experiment was just too shallow. Mansome needs more material to become a more complete doc, and if Morgan went back and shot/edited more footage, then he could really have something here. I suspect that other reviewers sensed this, but were not as understanding as I was.
I don’t always agree with them, but RT has this movie at 25% fresh on critical reviews (from 36 pros), and 50% from audiences (out of 1,100 viewers). IMDb lists it as 4.1 (out of 100 users), and Metacritic lists it as 35/100, based on 14 reviewers. I can go against the grain, and the response seems a bit harsh, but this picture gave me a hard time in arguing against all the negativity.
The make-or-break moment for reviewers, I suspect, was the time given to a man who specifically made a device for men to dry themselves down there. It’s not a flaw that it spends time on this taboo topic, yet giving precious running time to something means you should actually give it some depth, or cut it from the film. I think that other viewers responded so harshly because that choice really highlighted the flaws here.
The opening moments of the picture suggest that the doc is going to be about “men as societal figures,” identity, how modern and historical standards are influencing the role of males. As a result, I think that reviewers were replying mostly to the that, which is appropriate, If I invite you over for home-cooked chicken cacciatore and I serve Chinese takeout instead, I couldn’t really complain if you were disappointed.
The negativity isn’t wrong-minded. We see a beard competition winner (who looks like 80′s-era Metallica, btw) as he wins a competition and gingerly eats some food. Why not talk about the complications of eating with tons of facial hair? I have to tie my hair back before a meal!
Where’s the Tom Selleck interview? Why is there no analysis of the Boston Red Sox, and their players’ freakish collection of hair styles? I don’t just mean Manny Ramirez with his Predator locks, I mean the white players who looked like skinheads. Actually, where’s the folks talking about being mistaken for neo-Nazis, or the guy in a bar who told me that he wore a mohawk and used to get jumped because of it?
If this film were doing a proper dissection of the whole “hair and men” thing, then why not talk about how the standard professional appearance (in America) is: be clean-shaven, unless you’re “a beard/’ tache guy, and don’t have long hair, but tie it back if you do? There are so many fairly-obvious questions that are ignored here, or topics like, an interviewee mentions that young minority kids are taken to the local barber shop so they can be around “men.” Why not explore absent fathers in the Black community, or the role of “places” that are supposed to define “manliness?” Why not let the awesome guy from Anthrax talk more?
Hell, I saw the movie Orgazmo – it’s by the South Park creators, quite funny – and one character claims what I’d never heard before: male porn stars shave down there because it makes their junk look bigger. Where’s the discussion of that? I doctor told me that a college kid had warts and spread it elsewhere because he shaved himself to achieve the same effect. Why doesn’t this man-scaping documentary mention that? Why not delve into the most common male-hyper-grooming effort: dyeing one’s hair?
This is a 79-minute cinematic documentary, and it should be at least 30 minutes longer so that it can give its subject as much time and depth as it deserves. Before I close the review, I should note that my opinion is influenced by the idea that some re-shooting or editing would give this pic the impact that it could have…
Out of respect for what this film could be, and for Morgan Spurlock’s efforts, overall, I can’t give Mansome more than 2 hearts out of 5 – 2.5 seems more accurate, but I can’t do half-hearts here.
Mansome comes out today, and is available on Youtube and ITunes, among other sources. If you’re not expecting a whole lot, or have a special interest in this topic, you can really enjoy this. But there are problems here, and they mostly seem to boil down to a lack of focus and misjudging the subject a bit. If a breezy discussion of male grooming doesn’t appeal to you – well, he may not be perfect, but Spurlock’s got a lot of stories to tell, so keep an eye on him…