Spurlock is a little late to the party in ‘Mansome’
There’s no point in wishing Morgan Spurlock would just go away. He won’t. But even in resignation, it’s hard to condone his vacant approach to nonfiction moviemaking. He finds a decent hook and leaves it at that. “Mansome” doesn’t even have a decent hook. It’s a movie so late in noticing a shift in American male grooming that for a documentary on the subject to work, Spurlock would either have to pitch it to our grandparents (or be a grandparent) or trace the arc of the shift and unpack it. The latter option wouldn’t even require much effort. The research and critiques and essays have been proliferating for years.
But “Mansome” seems like the outcome of a director flipping through his first Details magazine and sensing apocalypse. Spurlock appears only once or twice. The movie isn’t about his experiences in the world of moisturizers and skinny jeans. He doesn’t visit a spa or shave his back. Often the most aggravating aspect of a Spurlock production is the limited point of view. The TV shows and movies — “Super Size Me,” “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?,” “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” — rarely extend beyond the insufficient ambit of their maker. A recent film about the sci-fi convention Comic-Con was a heartening exception.
What you notice about “Mansome” and its exasperating reliance on commentary from famous, crotchety men (Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow, Adam Carolla) and insipid insight from experts is that Spurlock has no charisma as a filmmaker. He simply has a personality, and without it his movies could be made by almost anyone — in this case, the folks at the Spike network. That spa trip you wouldn’t have minded seeing Spurlock take has been outsourced to Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, two of the movie’s producers.
The film has nothing new to argue or advocate. It does find two interesting men. One is the compact professional wrestler Shawn Daivari, who’s recorded several times taking an electric razor to the lawn growing on his chest, arm, legs, neck, and back. Daivari is smart and personable and enchanted enough with his career to undergo what appears to be an annoying routine. He and his sport are their own movie about the business of vanity and the pressure of grooming. The evolution of wrestling is a clear window onto the shifts in how men feel about their bodies and selves. But Spurlock is allergic to windows.
The other person of interest is Ricky Manchanda, who’s in his mid-30s, works in New York’s fashion industry, and considers his looks a hobby. He’s a cheeseball, but a fascinating one. Manchanda is Sikh, and since he stopped wearing a turban and cut his hair, he’s become obsessed with himself. But the obsession is bound up in some kind of psychosocial compulsion. He’s free of the turban but is now so imprisoned in the self-conscious neurosis of what it used to mean for him to wear the turban in the United States that he can’t stop overcompensating for having once been “different.”
Spurlock might see a man beset by a little self-loathing as someone worthy of a real documentary profile. But at this point, there’s no way Spurlock can take a chance on a good, strange story. That would require patience and focus. A minute into any of his movies or television projects, you often feel that he is simply working from the location of his next one.