Morgan Spurlock Explores Back Shaving and Competitive Beard Growing in in ‘Mansome’ [Tribeca Review]
Posted on Monday, April 23rd, 2012 by Angie Han
Having tackled the fast-food industry, the war on terror, and product placement with his last several works, Morgan Spurlock takes on the less overtly political topic of male grooming in Mansome. Featuring interviews with experts, ordinary joes, oddities, and celebrities (Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow, John Waters, etc.), the lighthearted film tackles the full spectrum of masculine appearance maintenance in contemporary society. It’s a very broad topic and Spurlock only manages to skim the surface, but what Mansome lacks in real insight, it makes up for in sheer entertainment.
Spurlock heads all over the country and even the world in his quest to understand men and manscaping. He stops in on old-school barbershops and posh spas, visits the pro wrestling ring with WWE and TNA star Shawn Daviari, and the European beard competition circuit with “professional beardsman” Jack Passion.
Structurally, the film is divided into segments like “mustaches,” “beards,” “the body,” “the face,” and so on. Recurring commentary from movie stars and academics loosely tie the film together, but the most interesting parts of the movie are its featured subjects. (As they should be.) Still, Arrested Development fans will enjoy watching Bateman and Arnett snipe at each other over the course of a luxurious spa day. And those who’ve grown tired of Spurlock’s schtick will be happy to see that the filmmaker only makes occasional appearances in front of the camera.
Though Spurlock hasn’t shied away from taking firm stances in his previous films, Mansome suffers from a lack of clear perspective. On the one hand, this allows Spurlock to grapple seriously with a wide range of viewpoints. A metrosexual’s argument that he feels more powerful when he knows he looks good is as valid an opinion as Adam Carolla‘s tired complaint that “society told men to stop acting like men.” (Though not all subjects are treated with the same level of sympathy: Passion in particular comes across as deluded in his insistence that competitive beard-growing is a real sport.) On the other, however, it’s hard to tease out exactly what Spurlock is trying to show or tell us here. In the end, the biggest takeaway is that Spurlock and his stars have mixed feelings about the evolving definition of masculinity vis a vis male grooming.
That ambivalence is perhaps the most telling part of Mansome. Beyond that, the film isn’t especially insightful. The topic of men, self-image, changing beauty standards, shifting societal expectations is rich enough to spawn an entire series of documentaries, but Spurlock chooses breadth over depth in his 84-minute feature. Nor does it tell us much we don’t already know; ‘metrosexual’ has been part of the cultural lexicon for well over a decade at this point, after all. But the comedy stars provide some truly funny moments (Zach Galifianakis in particular gets in some great lines), and Spurlock keeps things moving at a fast, entertaining clip. If nothing else, Mansome is plenty of fun to watch.
/Film rating: 6.5 out of 10.0