★★ / ★★★★
“Mansome,” directed by Morgan Spurlock, asks what it means to be “masculine” in a modern society where an increasing number of men opt to take care of themselves, from eating better and spending some time pumping iron in the gym to eliminating unwanted body hair from areas such as back and arms, on casual and obsessive levels. While the documentary manages to ask a handful of interesting questions in terms of the attention men spend on themselves to feel good and appear attractive to others, it doesn’t seem to have enough focus and control to communicate clearly the messages in wants to convey.
The director makes the right choice in first turning the camera on himself, specifically, the mustache that almost comes hand-in-hand with his reputation of creating fun and entertaining methods of gathering and presenting information as a documentarian. It is arguably one of the best segments of the film because we come to learn what the mustache means to him as someone who’s maintained it for eight years.
His masterstroke is that he allows us to judge him, his bare face, by shaving his signature horseshoe mustache. This proves to be an effective method because prior to sporting a clean-shaven face, he talks about how the mustache has become a part of his identity. I had serious doubts; I might have even scoffed at such a dramatic claim. After the shave, however, I felt as though his admission had a grain of truth in it. Looking at him without hair on his face made me feel like I was looking at a second-rate Spurlock, almost an impostor.
Other subjects are interviewed like Jack Passion who has a beard so lengthy that it reaches his torso, Brook Frank who invented Fresh Balls, a product designed to keep the groin area dry, and a pair of toupee artists. While they are very interesting people because of what they do, their roles in connection to picture’s thesis aren’t always clear. They are allowed to speak for copious amount of time but the issues they talk about are at times irrelevant. For instance, how does Frank’s business directly relate to the conscious or subconscious insecurities that men have about their perceived level of masculinity?
Jason Bateman and Will Arnett getting pedicures and a massage is hilarious even in the absence of their witty exchanges, but what the documentary could have used more is authenticity. This could have been achieved by pulling random people off the streets and asking them what they think it means to be a man, to be masculine, as well as what they think of men who spend a lot of money to achieve their fantasies of a being very well-groomed man. The movie also talks about how men’s magazines are beginning to appeal to men’s insecurities as women’s magazines are doing to women for decades. If so, why not show us a few lines from these magazines and clearly establish parallels from its claims?
“Mansome” is disappointing because its laid back approach often prevents it from digging deeply enough into the culture and mindset of its subjects. In the end, it made me wish it had been entirely about Bateman and Arnett’s day at the spa.