Friday, March 30, 2007

Samantha Urban Review

AFI documentary 'America the Beautiful' enlightens and entertains

By: Samantha Urban, Associate Entertainment Editor, surban@smu.edu

Posted: 3/30/07

"America the Beautiful," written, directed, narrated and produced by Darryl Roberts, is one of the most important documentary films of this decade.

In a society where "celebutantes" like Paris Hilton dominate newsstands and models who weigh less than 90 pounds die from malnutrition, female body image is one of the more dire problems facing today's society. In "America the Beautiful," Darryl Roberts illuminates the issue by covering every base he can think of. Child models, plastic surgery, celebrity worship, airbrushed advertising, dangerous cosmetics - no rock is left unturned.

Roberts, inspired by the documentary style of Michael Moore, hired a crack team to help him put the film together. The executive producer is Michael Beach, who has worked with many acclaimed directors, including James Cameron, Robert Altman and Tony Scott. The film's supervising editor is Kurt Engfehr, who actually worked with Michael Moore on "Bowling for Columbine" and "Farenheight 9/11."

What is astounding about "America the Beautiful" is how affecting the film is. After seeing it, you'll want to make sure every one you know sees it as well - and not just women. Roberts includes the male gender in his documentary as well, interviewing them for commentary and even spending a few minutes on male body image (an issue that one of the film's other producers plans to explore further in a film of his own).

Another impressive aspect of the film is its timeliness. With Brazilian models dropping like flies, Nicole Richie looking thinner every day, and the rate of plastic surgery constantly on the rise (with the clientele getting younger and younger), America needs a film like this.

Roberts even addresses the popular Dove campaign ads, particularly the one in which an ordinary woman is transformed into a goddess on a billboard using a team of stylists and Adobe Photoshop. As the ad plays within the film, Roberts good-naturedly comments he set out to make a film that would enlighten women on the unrealistic expectations that advertisements set for women, but Dove beat him to it.

Much of "America the Beautiful" documents the life of Gerren Taylor, a 12-year-old runway model. It's unsettling to watch Taylor's meteoric rise to fame, even though the legal age for runway modeling is 14 here in the United States.

Even more disturbing is Taylor's self image once she doesn't get called for as many jobs as she used to, thanks in part to her overbearing stage mother. Taylor refers to herself as ugly, hinging her opinion of herself on fashion designers and modeling agents.

"America the Beautiful" is not for the faint of heart. Many scenes, particularly the ones focusing on plastic surgery, are sickening and difficult to watch. The lengths to which some women will go to become and stay beautiful makes your average crash diet look like child's play.

Some scenes will infuriate viewers, like the ones in which Roberts exposes doctors who call themselves "plastic surgeons" as mere doctors who have taken a one-day course in plastic surgery and have only practiced procedures on tomatoes. The practice is more common than you think. Of the doctors on the television show "Dr. 90210," only one was an accredited plastic surgeon. The others are regular doctors or OB-GYNs who have attended a short plastic surgery workshop.

Most educational were the scenes focusing on other cultures. "Vagina Monologues" author Eve Ensler discusses her time spent in African countries where negative body image simply doesn't exist. A Harvard professor discusses her time spent in foreign countries before and after said countries got television and the profound effect that small change had on body image in those countries.

Overall, Roberts has crafted a documentary that exposes America for what it is: beauty obsessed. The movie is touring film festivals right now, but Roberts hopes for a theatrical release as soon as possible. "America the Beautiful" is funny, shocking and enlightening and is important enough to merit as many people seeing it as possible.


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