Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Morgan Spurlock's 'Mansome' a disappointing foray into male grooming

Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary, Mansome, will go down as one of the director's lesser works. Spurlock's non-fiction films are usually full of laughs and quirky insights.  At the Tribeca Film Festival screening I attended, I heard only a smattering of chuckles. Compare that to his product placement movie, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which had me doubled over in laughter from start to finish. Mansome rarely goes beyond clichés, a real disappointment for Spurlock's fans, including myself.

Mansome 2Ostensibly about male grooming, Mansome mainly focuses on beards and mustaches, with some commentary on back hair thrown in. Spurlock also intercuts the story with a "day at the spa" sequence featuring Jason Bateman and Will Arnett joking around in facial masques. Spurlock now has the cachet to attract big stars from rock bands and famous bearded folk like Zach Galifianakis and Judd Apatow, but they don't add that much to the story. By relying on celebrities to do the heavy lifting and make jokes, Spurlock misses an opportunity to explore his subject beyond the easy punchlines. I also noticed that Ben Silverman, who Spurlock named as a tireless advocate of product placement in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, has an executive producer credit in the film, going from being a corporate enemy to a co-producer. Perhaps he's responsible for the segment on the product "Fresh Balls," which aims to solve dampness issues in men's groins.

There's so much to say about male grooming from a cultural perspective, but Spurlock barely scratches the surface. Aside from a few comments from a sociologist, he never gets into the "whys" behind male grooming trends or delves into the social signaling behind a scruffy beard or waxed eyebrows. He also doesn't include any gay perspectives in the documentary. Certainly a segment of the gay community takes grooming very seriously. I've heard the argument before that put-together gay men have influenced straight men to step up their own approach to male grooming, but Mansome 1Spurlock doesn't address this or any other interplay between straight and gay grooming.

He does tackle one illuminating subject: male wrestlers. The epitome of a certain kind of masculinity, these pro wrestlers shave their bodies completely, tan, and focus immensely on the size and appearance of their muscular bodies. It's the kind of vain attention most men avoid admitting to, yet their manliness is never in question.

Mansome's failure to tackle subjects of gender, masculinity, and sexual orientation are only accented by the film's lack of historical perspective. Certainly male grooming was a preoccupation of the likes of Louis XIV and his contemporaries, who wore wigs and high heels. Vague, obvious references to male grooming occurring since the "beginning of time" or allusions to a long history of beard-growing do little to provide this historical perspective. The documentary jumps around without providing a thesis to tie things together. Spurlock's name recognition could give Mansome decent play on-demand or via Netflix, but it's unlikely to have more than a cursory theatrical release.

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