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- The Trip to Italy – Preview - 4 April, 2014
It’s life-after-Almodovar-reviews, and so this week we look at the male-focused documentary Mansome, directed by Morgan Spurlock. The central question appears to be what is it to be a man in modern times? It’s soon evident however that this question is far narrower than one might hope
Spurlock, of course, is no stranger to controversy and oddball moves/movies. He struck gold with the exploration of fast-food culture in Super Size Me, followed it up a few years later with Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? and is currently working on a documentary with One Direction. In the midst of this eclectic mix, however, have come a surge of opportunities on both television and in films – as director, producer, writer and presenter (sometimes all four) – in the last three or four years.
His high-point in this creative bender came with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a thoroughly enjoyable look at the world of product placement. Mansome, though executively produced Jason Bateman and Will Arnett – co-workers-turned-friends courtesy of Arrested Development – who also appear throughout in little sketch interludes of no real value or significance, is not of his finer or more memorable efforts. It seems that the quality-quantity balance is starting to tilt in the favour of the latter when it comes to Spurlock’s work.
The film itself, even with these moments included, is only 82 minutes long. And yet it feels like it runs out of steam after about 45. What’s disappointing is that there’s so much room for development and exploration of issues that just never comes. It feels as though whoever once had interest in this project loses it halfway through production, and the film seems to bore even itself in the last half hour.
The potential to examine issues from the serious to comic and to jump from the everyday to the bizarre should have resulted in the only problem being how to narrow it down, rather than struggling to scale it up to feature-length proportions (and worthiness). But this problem does exist, and it does so because of two main reasons. The first is the struggle to find a suitable narrative: a particular thing that acts as a thread to weave the piece together. The only thing settled on as they flit and float from uninteresting issue to tedious topic – sigh – is the addition of Bateman and Arnett as the go-to guys, And even the funniest, most-likeable actors need a good script.
The second problem is linked to the above and is in fact the attempted “solution” to it, albeit a bad one (hence the disapproving quotation marks). This is the decision to document only male-appearance worries and woes, which – as you might have gathered from the above summary – are neither particularly informative nor are they particularly entertaining, successfully dodging both by a comfortable distance in the end.
These come in the form of a number of punchy headings such as ‘the beard’ and ‘the moustache’ (no, seriously) which, as it happens, are probably the most interesting. From there we get brief glimpses at ‘the hair’, ‘the products’, ‘the body’ and ‘the face’, none of which gets enough time to make much of an impact, which is perhaps ultimately a blessing. With interviews from notables Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and the wonderful John Waters, it should be a lot better than it actually is.
These sections are centrepieced by mini-narratives, such as Morgan Spurlock’s determination to shave off his identifiable and proud moustache after eight long years as a kind-of reverse-Movember pledge. Another involves a man with an awfully-nice name (Jack Passion) and an awfully-long beard who is described as a “beardsman” and performs a job which he labels as “beard-building”. We briefly see his competing at various events including an apparently prestigious one in Europe, and along with it the range of characters (and beards) that such proceedings attract.
These first couple – Spurlock, Passion, etc – are at least enjoyable. The ones that follow don’t even have this quality to fall back on. At one point we follow a man who doesn’t appear to have any credentials but does look fairly good and stresses the importance of grooming and such, and it descends into farce when two old men reminisce for a short while about something or other in a barbers. These sound more like segments from The One Show than appropriate documentary narratives. If that’s not enough, the wrestler known as Daivari turns up and takes us through the rather repulsive practicalities of regularly shaving your entire body, which feels a bit like free therapy for him and needless nausea for us. Thanks for that.
The problem is that issues like these are not even skin-deep (quite literally). Not only do they lack any sort of substance (even ‘the products’ section) but there appears to be no particular reason for them, and they go by too quickly. What this leads to is a number of short docs which are badly glued together. It’s a 21st-century jump-cut documentary for people who believe they have no time or interest in really watching documentaries.
All in all, it’s a missed opportunity. Though the topic undoubtedly lends itself to a more conversational, forum-like procession, there was still a chance to make something witty, amusing and relevant here. The production became confused at some point and tried to veer itself into the direction of a number of mini-narratives which doesn’t at all suit the format. This results in something that’s quite vacuous, and says nothing relevant about the male form in 2011-2012 (the years of production and release).
Though it was never going to be genius or timeless, a more accomplished team would’ve created something more cohesive and significant with the resources available, particularly considering the interviewees they had on hand. Similar films looking at seemingly inconsequential, pithy topics include Fuck (‘bad’ language), The Aristocrats (comedy) and Helvetica (fonts), but with a far more successful, worthy output, especially if you take them for what they are.
Perhaps the dazed and confused narrative was as a result of uninteresting interview responses. Or, more likely, is that – just like the eventual film itself – they just weren’t asking the right questions.