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Morgan Spurlock's new documentary, Mansome, explores the touchy subject
of masculinity and what it means to be a man in the twenty-first
century. He asks the very general question, and then searches around
Hollywood to gather interviews from people like Adam Carolla, Zach
Galifianakis, and John Waters to weigh in on their opinions of
manliness. Considering that Spurlock has made documentaries previously
on eating McDonalds for thirty days straight, finding Osama Bin Laden,
funding a film using product placement and advertising, showcasing four
different people who plan to make it big at San Diego Comic-Con, and
even created a show where subjects live in others' shoes for thirty
days, this isn't too far out in left field for him.
Spurlock is a gifted documentarian, with a talent for creating the most interesting documentary topics and fueling his films with humor and substance. But Mansome isn't always as insightful or as interesting as it could be. The film has an idea, but struggles to build off of it, and what we're left with is an overgeneralized question, numerous chapters detailing small parts of that question, and a countless number of interviews that seem to be aiming for the witty aspect rather than the factual one clearly at hand. We get opinions every now and then, but actors like Galifianakis and Paul Rudd seem to be trying to come up with the best line to say rather than the best answer.
There's also a rather oddly placed subplot, involving Arrested Development co-stars, Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, spending a day at the spa, being pampered, massaged, and bathed in lotion while discussing what it means to be a man. While the idea is cute and genial, this feels, again, too focused on providing the documentary with fluffy comedy rather than statistics, facts, and opinions.
Probably the most interesting part of the film is when we learn about Jack Passion, a championship "bearder" who has traveled across the world, partaking in the sport of beard-building or "bearding." The sport part is growing the beard, and how you win is by showing it off to people. I'm reminded of when I had a debate with my friends about whether or not birding or bird-watching was a sport before seeking out The Big Year, a film centered around it. After much thought, I settled on the idea that birding was a sport. I'm not sure about bearding, however. But if it is, Passion can be considered the Babe Ruth of "bearding," winning many first place titles, world titles, and even traveling to a beard/mustache convention in England.
One topic that I desperately wish the film would've centered more on is the idea of metrosexual behavior in males and how it could quickly transcend into blatant narcissism. One interviewer makes the statement that many do not know what the word means. In a nutshell, it basically refers to males who over-compensate their appearance by the littlest of things, such as every hair on their eyebrows and mustache must be properly combed and straightened, their belt and shoes need to match, they must not have one piece of lint on them, etc. It's basically obsessive compulsive dressing.
We touch on this subject briefly at the end, but not as long as we spend on the idea of bearding and mustaches, which is a shame. Also, the film neglects to show how the pretty-boy image could've been influenced by actors and singers like Orlando Bloom, Justin Bieber, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Since many women find them attractive, do we try and model ourselves after them? And never do we touch on the idea of tattoos and body-ink as a form of expressing ourselves and how those have a positive or negative impact on our image.
Mansome is a nice little venture in the idea of masculinity, the increasing or decreasing idea of "manliness," and overall, what makes "a man" in the first place. The problems lie from the lack of mature interviews, with many of the subjects cracking jokes rather than discussing their true opinions, the time we spend learning about petty things that are needless and unimportant, and how the film just appears dis-interesting at times. But as of now, it is probably the best film we have on the subject.
Starring: Morgan Spurlock, Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Adam Carolla, Paul Rudd, and Zach Galifianakis. Directed by: Morgan Spurlock.
What does it mean to be a man? That question has been asked by everyone
from anthropologists and sociologists to your literal average joe.
"Mansome" looks at this age-old topic from the perspective of the
modern trend in male grooming, and by that I mean the recent
pop-culture awareness of centuries-old male grooming.
Documentarian Morgan Spurlock has always been fascinated by certain cultures, so to speak, and in exploring several characters that are either employed by or at least somewhat preoccupied with the male aesthetic, he attempts to uncover some truths about how men feel about their appearance and how the appearance of men matters in society. He even turns the camera on himself as a mustache-wearer to understand the significance of facial hair.
The subject matter warrants a more open conversation just considering the taboo of men openly discussing the connection they feel between their bodies and their self-esteem. At the same time, Spurlock comes at it with too wide a lens; "Mansome" would work much better as a series of 45 to 60 minute documentaries on each of the "sections" he covers: mustaches, beards, hair, body hair, the face, etc.
As he does so well, Spurlock finds great subjects to follow in each category, people unaware that the microscope is on them psychologically as people as much as it is their facial hair or whatever category of grooming they fall under. We see people with egos, pure narcissists and people more honest about the superficiality of it all.
Between sections of the film we are presented with light bits between Will Arnett and Jason Bateman at a day spa discussing nothing of any true relevance to the big picture of the documentary. In fact, it feels as though the "Arrested Development" stars are acting as the public perception of themselves, not just being themselves, and the whole thing comes across as Spurlock using his Hollywood clout to bring some attention to his film.
"Mansome" also beefs up its resume with interviews featuring Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis and other notable personalities who can offer amusing insights into "manscaping." Although hearing more from the experts Spurlock interviews would probably bring more depth to the plots of the many subjects of the film, they help with the film's entertainment factor in a way few docs can.
Ultimately, the film raises a lot of interesting questions but never gets the chance to follow through on any of them. The gears will start turning for viewers who have never considered the topic, but there's nothing mind-altering to be found. The most that can be gleaned is that men take grooming with varying degrees of seriousness, and their choice to do so can either be considered highly unnecessary or liberating.
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It's going to be hard to express what a disappointment this film was. I
liked Spurlock's other works, but "Mansome" is essentially a complete
failure. The problem is, it's simply not funny...at all. The Jason
Bateman/Will Arnett pieces aren't remotely funny or even entertaining.
They feel completely ad-libbed by two guys with no skills at improv.
You would think for the maybe 10 minutes of screen time they had that
either they (or some writers) could come up with a few good bits...but
not a one!
There are only two bits that are entertaining: Jack Passion and Ricky Manchada. The problem is, we are laughing at, not with, these two real people...and that's exactly the intent. The problem is, while we laugh at how pathetic they are, we actually feel badly that we're laughing (at those of us with a heart) and feel badly for them in turn.
Perhaps what's most disappointing is that with a documentary, you can always "shoot more". There's no way Spurlock and the producers watched this film and said "Wow, this is great...really funny." No chance. So instead of improving, they passed it off and pawned it off on us...taking all their stock way down in my (and I suspect many fans) mind.
It feels like they got a check to make the film and shot the bare minimum to crank out a film. They cashed their checks and went home.
A documentary that explores the question: In the age of manscaping,
metrosexuals, and grooming products galore - what does it mean to be a
man? Morgan Spurlock is not putting on his best show here, and I think
it might be because this film is drowning in celebrities (though this
can possibly be explained by the producing of Jason Bateman, Will
Arnett and Ben Stiller -- the first two being great hosts).
I like that the idea of mustache = pedophile was brought up, though some people pull it off (such as John Waters). How something fashionable in the 1970s or 1980s could today (2014) be so wrong is amazing, and the transition in popular culture would be worth exploring.
I also really liked the scene with the wrestler shaving. I am not quite as hair as he is, but I can relate.
The staff of the The A.V. Club named it one of the worst movies of 2012, criticizing it as "absolutely insufferable, a shabby excuse for a documentary that sadistically stretches to feature length a premise that would barely support a two-minute short." This is going much too far, though I confess much of it came off as fluff without any real substance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Mansome', a 2012 documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock (of
'Supersize Me' fame), seeks to answer the following questions about
manliness in today's society: Have commonly accepted ideas of "men"
changed with the advent of "manscaping", grooming, and the more
commonly accepted "metrosexual" look? The documentary is advertised as
having an all-star cast of Judd Apatow-esque "crude comedy" actors
(Zach Galifianakis, Paul Rudd, Jason Bateman, etc) answering questions
in "candid interviews" about their own personal struggle with being
comfortable in their "gender role". In actuality, these actors answer
questions briefly, and are truly only there for comic relief and to
transition the documentary into the next subject. They are rarely seen.
(I believe Zach Galifianakis is only in the film for a short one minute
clip or so.) Actually, I was a little nonplussed in the way the movie
was advertised. It's as if these "stoner comedy" characters were the
epitome of manliness. (It almost made my heart break for the future of
Mansome originally caught my eye on my Netflix account because I teach a unit in my 12th grade curriculum on Media and Gender Portrayal. We talk quite a bit about (and try to come to some conclusion or consensus of) what it means to be a man in today's society and how the media panders to, or cultivates our understanding of "manliness" and gender roles. In the past, I've shown various parts of documentaries, and I think that with the changing view towards masculinity in our society, I would like to add various clips of different types of portrayals of men.
The documentary unfolds in distinct sections, starting with a discussion about Morgan Spurlock's mustache. Spurlock talks about how his mustache has become a part of his identity, and struggles with shaving it off. The purpose of shaving it off is slightly unclear, except that he needs a "change", as he's had the 'stache for most of his life. He finally shaves it off, has an identity crisis, his daughter cries at the sight of his face, and he decides that he made a huge mistake by shaving. Although, as a woman, I don't understand the emotional connection to a mustache or facial hair, I can understand how hair (for me, my long blonde hair that I cut short once, and felt like a completely different person) can sometimes define you and become a part of your identity. A perfect example is a friend of mine, who whenever anyone asks about him, the first comment from his circle of friends is, "He just has a really solidly grown beard!" The entire segment did feel a little contrived, however, as if the purpose of the documentary from the first 20 mins was to explain that to men, appearance is everything. I don't find this to be true or even a compelling message to analyze and deconstruct as a statement on masculinity.
This segment is shortly followed by a bearded wonder, a gentleman who considers himself a "beardsman" and competes in "beard competitions" internationally. At this point, although a hilarious segment, I couldn't possibly believe what I was watching. The entire rest of the movie seems to go for the "humor" aspect, completely disregarding the essential question that the film presented from the first segment. Other ideas presented in the film review body products, hair products, the male physique, and hair loss.
The audience has limited interaction with Morgan Spurlock (except for his mustache-shaving incident of 2012 as the first scene). This is a far cry from Spurlock's previous endeavors in documentary film making, where he's been actively involved in narrating and crafting a plot, focus, and call to action in his films. Actually, you wouldn't even know that Morgan Spurlock was the director if you didn't see his name in the opening credits. The documentary pulls from so many interview sources (some famous people, some people we don't know or care about) and uses the rhetorical appeals of ethos ("credible sources", like Zach Galifianakis, who makes a point to reference his qualifications to discuss beards because of his solid beard) and pathos (an emotional appeal, like where some women talk about kissing a gentleman with a beard), but uses very little, if any at all, logical statements or statistics.
The film itself is very minimalistic. Interviews were conducted in front of a gray colored wall, and these interviews are used for transition pieces to each segment of the film. The rest of the film is primarily filmed on location, and is an expository documentary film.
My ultimate review is that while this film is pretty entertaining and amusing from an over- the-top character perspective, the message of masculinity seems a little one-dimensional and falls flat. I would not actually take this film as anything more than riding on the coat tails of current trends in society. If you're looking for something funny, you will probably enjoy this film. If you're looking for something that actually attacks the questions I listed above, this will not do it for you.
The construction of masculinity is interesting to me and it really
could have been explored. However, instead of spending more time with
people like Michael Kimmel (professor) who study gender, they seemed to
feel they should spend more time showing random quotes from B or C list
celebrities whose opinions I don't care about.
The fact that some irritatingly chauvinist guy from "the man show" thinks women are emasculating men - or the lead singer of Antthrax thinking that waxing is 'gay'... fine, that's their personal viewpoint, which they have every right to (much as I may disagree). What saddened me was they each got got as much airtime as the expert in gender roles.
The saving grace of this film was the time spent with some of the subjects. They were interesting, but also quite sad.
Jack Passion, the beard guy, was an interesting person - but he seemed to have nothing in his life except his beard competitions.
Shawn, who plays an "evil Arab" wrestling character demonizing his culture - has to shave his entire body and sculpt his body to achieve an unrealistic standard.
Ricky, the attractive Indian guy who was ashamed to be Sikh and has internalized the same kind of body hatred that many women have. He is a beautiful man with wonderful family and a strong tradition that he has felt he had to "overcome" and admits to never being satisfied.
I wish they had cut the celebrity clips and really dived more into this subject. The ever changing standards of masculinity, the ever increasing focus on men's bodies and the growing insecurities that parallel women's beauty standards is a fascinating topic.
I hope someone else takes up this idea again because it deserves to be done well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Was Justin Bateman kidding? This was more like a school project for
summer. The filming and editing was so amateur that I do wonder who he
got to hold and focus (if it was even a person doing it and not a
chimp) is beyond me.
The subject was interesting but it went nowhere. It is more like a teenage boys hangup with hair and then balding men's hangup with the lack of hair. My God, it was all about hair and then it went on and on with each subject about their hair.
This was painful to watch but I do give each movie the full chance so I do watch from the beginning to the end.
To make this a good movie it should be just the opening credits and the closing credits and leave out all the foolishness in between.
Justin, come on man - are you on crack? The only good line in the movie was - Back, Sac and Crack...
Sheesh, another Morgan Spurlock documentary. Male grooming - appearance - how men behold themselves - females point of view. Shallow work here, that skittered from one topic to another and lingered too long on marginal aspects (eg: the beard competition). Beards, mustaches, haircuts, toupees, all discussed for no apparent point. Men have always grown or worn those - who cares? Section of the product "Fresh Balls" was funny as anything. Also the older male comments that the current fad for body shaving is turning men into Barbie dolls. Film should have followed that path. Instead this is a time waster with no focus. Spurlock strikes me as more agreeable than Michael Moore, probably better to have a drink with. His output, however, causes me to think he is running out of things to say.
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