The compelling, sometimes ugly side of "America the Beautiful"
Darryl Roberts' documentary "America the Beautiful" examines our culture's obsession with beauty.
Seattle Times movie critic
"America the Beautiful," a documentary by Darryl Roberts. 105 minutes. Rated R for some language, including sexual references. Uptown.
Darryl Roberts' scattershot but effective documentary "America the Beautiful" explores the question of why our culture obsesses over feminine beauty and goes to extreme lengths to achieve it. At its center is a face both beautiful and eerie: Gerren Taylor, a former model who began her career at age 12 and whose skill at transforming her features into the chilly blankness required for the camera and runway is uncanny.
Roberts uses Taylor as both a central theme and cautionary tale, and her story is compelling. Encouraged (some might say pushed) by her mother, Michelle, herself a former amateur model, leggy Gerren was modeling swimsuits at age 12 and working New York Fashion Week runways soon afterward. But the novelty of this "baby model" soon faded, and despite Michelle's best efforts to find work for her daughter (who was, by this point, being home-schooled and traveling Europe), Gerren found herself just a regular teenager again — her slender form was decreed too big for runway work. Among the movie's saddest footage is when this lovely and formerly vivacious girl looks sadly into Roberts' camera and says that she knows she's ugly. Tossed aside, she was left to form her own conclusions.
Gerren's story, as part of a focused examination of the fashion industry, might well have been enough for a vivid documentary, but Roberts is asking bigger questions and as such his movie tends to wander. The movie covers a broad spectrum of beauty-related issues including magazine retouching, plastic surgery (for both humans and dogs) and its dangers, safety issues with cosmetics, a Web community for highly attractive people, the marketing of beauty products and the dangers of the modeling industry.
And it keeps returning to a trio of three idiotic men who share their unenlightened views on beauty. (One says he approves of plastic surgery because it gives "extra time on the lease," and hopes aloud that in the future beautiful women can be cloned and thus "eliminate the nasty chicks.") It's clear Roberts isn't lending support to their views, but why waste space on these guys?
Nonetheless, "America the Beautiful" provides plenty of food for thought, and Roberts' passion for the subject shines through. A willowy young model (not Gerren, but not much older) gazes at his camera and explains that, at 6 feet tall and 130 pounds, she needs to lose 15 pounds to keep working. But won't that affect her health, he wonders? She's nonplused. "If you're going to worry about your health," she says, "go to college."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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