The Oscar-nominated director of Super Size Me brings us another documentary that hones in on a specific subject with such precision, it can’t help but involve myriad other cultural issues in the process. Morgan Spurlock’s Mansome gives an historical and cultural account of male grooming. The seasoned director presents the concept in all its awkwardness, even as he identifies the beard, the mustache, and other aspects of a man’s physical appearance as a means of understanding men of varied social classes, sexual identities and ethnic backgrounds. Mansome might be best understood as a comedy, with commentary from Zach Galifianakis, Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, Will Arnett and Jason Bateman—all of whom (along with a host of others) discuss the somewhat oxymoronic art of looking manly and handsome, or, mansome.
Morgan Spurlock is often involved with his work on a very corporeal level, and Mansome is no exception. The film begins with a study of the mustache in all its varied forms and glory. Naturally, Spurlock makes the difficult decision to shave his own beloved—and trademark—mustache. After this move towards mansome-ness, his preschool-age son’s reaction to his mustache-less “new” daddy becomes one of the highlights of the film, as baby Spurlock screams, cries, and eventually forces his dad to don a faux mustache. No one man ever becomes the focus of the film for very long, and Spurlock goes on to highlight the journey of an international beard competitor, as well as a self-identified metrosexual who gets his eyebrows threaded and receives laser treatment on his skin.
At first appearance, these men (and the others in the film) are presented in stark opposition. However, the documentary is ultimately an attempt to draw parallels to all men (and thus, all people) by pointing to the fact that we are all hopelessly—and naturally—obsessed with our appearances. Spurlock incorporates interviews with historians and cultural theorists who define male grooming as, primarily, a means of attracting a mate, but also as a form of self-expression and male camaraderie. These points are amplified in Spurlock’s interviews with barbershop owners, as well as gay and straight men and women. All discuss and confess their likes and dislikes, and their style and appearance as a means to a sexual and/or romantic end. Spurlock also highlights the growing market of male grooming products, giving special focus to the marketing campaign behind Brook Frank’s “Fresh Balls.”
The film’s strength comes from its depth of “characters”—the experts of Mansome are the degree-holders, celebrities, the men who braid their beards, and the women and men who do—or do not—sleep with them. Spurlock seems to be wholeheartedly interested in the motivating factors behind manscaping and other choices men make about their appearances. Are men driven by cultural expectations, personal beliefs, or the basic human need for affection and procreation?
One could certainly argue that Mansome suffers from a severe lack of dramatic tension. Spurlock shaves off his mustache in the beginning of the film (a monumental experience for him, surely, but rather comedic to viewers who have never had the pleasure of growing one), so this documentary—unlike Super Size Me—is not actually building up to anything in particular. Mansome will probably not be responsible for any major changes in the male grooming industry, but then again, neither is it a protest documentary. Instead, with humor and even a touch of irony, Spurlock attempts to create a complicated but true sense of intimacy. He achieves this in a parade of smaller moments, such as when Judd Apatow reveals his bald spot to the camera or when Zach Galifianakis ranks his grizzled appearance as a “1” or “a strong 2.” Mansome is a collection, a collage, or a mosaic of thoughts from a broad community, and maybe even—in its best moments—an attempt to briefly capture that community on film.
Starring:Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Morgan Spurlock, Zach Galifianakis, Judd Apatow
Release Date:May 17, 2012