The biggest surprise of Darryl Roberts’s documentary film America the Beautiful is the ease with which the director keeps his contempt for an indubitably contemptible industry in check. His main object of focus is Gerren Taylor, who was thrust into the fashion-media spotlight at age 12 when she became one of this country’s most recognizable models but who is now gripped by self-loathing as she struggles with her natural adolescent growing pains, treating her rising star as a jumping off point for a study of America’s lurid and irresponsible obsession with looking good and how the fashion and beauty industries have become complicit in wrecking the mental and physical health of our nation’s women. Subjects covered: the collision between beauty and commerce, our obsession with nip-tucking, the diethyl phthalate present in our beauty products but undisclosed to us by the FDA, doggie plastic surgery, race shame, and the culturally-eroding effects of media imagery when television came to Fiji. Among other things. The film’s production company is appropriately called Sensory Overload, but America the Beautiful is never boring in spite of its dizzying bombardment of sometimes familiar information. Roberts’s crude style, like his creepily aloof narration, is something of a rebuke to the slicker, more belligerent mode of Michael Moore, posing no easy answers to how America will be able to rectify a crisis that seems forever ingrained into our way of life (shocking fact: we account for 5% of the world’s population but we are exposed to 40% of the world’s advertisements), and one that is literally killing its people. His interviews with young girls with low self-esteem and douchebags with vulgar opinions of women are flabbergasting enough, but more surprising is how talking heads from the fashion industry so readily hang themselves to dry. Like Seventeen editor-in-chief Atoosa Rubenstein, who declares matter-of-factly that she doesn’t work for a nonprofit organization, and the absolutely monstrous Jill Ishkanian of US Weekly, who happily and openly delights in exploiting the weaknesses of her audience because it makes her rich. How Roberts resisted punching Ishkanian in the face would itself make the subject of a fascinating documentary exposé.
- First Independent Pictures
- 105 min
- Darryl Roberts
- Gerren Taylor, Ted Casablanca, Eve Ensler, Paris Hilton, Chris Keefe, Martin Short, Anthony Kiedis, Jessica Simpson, Darryl Roberts
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