- America the Beautiful (movie 2007) review: Well-intentioned documentary overextends itself while exposing the role the United States’ beauty and fashion industries play in American women’s obsession with physical perfection.
America the Beautiful (movie 2007) review: Documentary asks, ‘Who benefits from women not being beautiful?’ The answer is clear
When a middle-school principal discusses the effects of the media-driven body-image machine upon young women in America the Beautiful, it is not so much her words as the frustration that accompany them that best answers the simple thesis of Darryl Roberts’ documentary.
The filmmaker asks, “Who benefits from women not being beautiful?”
In the school administrator’s guarded but strong tones registering near hopelessness, the obvious answer resonates: No one outside of the industries that fuel this designation.
And though, as a woman, this educator has experienced decades beholden to the beauty machine, the fact that one of her students entered the fashion industry at an impossibly young age makes what’s unheard in her response all the more powerful.
Pre-teen beauty queen
That student, Gerren Taylor, walked the runways of Los Angeles Fashion Week as a twelve-year-old model dolled up as a sensual, trendsetting adult in wares that would eventually trickle downward to her tween peers.
Roberts structures his film around four years in Taylor’s career, and in her story the documentary is at its most acute. Gerren and her mother, a former model herself, provide an engrossing gateway into an exploration of the beauty ideal and its damning implications upon self-esteem and empowerment.
As Taylor is embraced and then devoured by the fashion industry, Roberts extends the conversation outward, touching upon a laundry list of ideas related to American ideals of beauty and image. In what seems like an extended Dateline or 20/20, the hot topics of plastic surgery, celebrity influence, media hypocrisy, makeup chemicals, and eating disorders are briefly examined.
Too much ground to cover
Although America the Beautiful focuses on women, male perspectives are also explored. Even so, insights into male self-image – or that of ethnic minorities or sexual orientations – are shortchanged, possibly because including these stories here would have only overextended matters further.
Each of the subjects discussed is important, of course, but it’s a lot of ground for the filmmaker to cover over the course of a 100-minute work. As a result, when Roberts expands outward, his focus, however well-intended, becomes muddled.
Besides, most viewers have seen similar exposés, so it comes as little shock that the plastic surgeons of television’s Dr. 90210 may not actually be certified in that field. Compounding matters, the instant gossip available online makes short celeb-driven segments concerning Paris Hilton and Britney Spears seem remarkably passé.
By the time female anatomical pundit Eve Ensler appears on screen with her take on the matter – admittedly, she makes succinct statements about designer vaginas – America the Beautiful feels off-course, repetitive, and strangely quaint.
Now, even though a viewer may have seen and heard all this before – even if that message refuses to take hold on Madison Avenue outside of those Dove commercials – Darryl Roberts’ personal reasons for making America the Beautiful do resonate: He undermined a relationship because he surmised he might find someone more beautiful than his partner.
If only this journey into the cult of beauty had remained as personal throughout.
In his reflection – and in the heartbreaking/infuriating (and ultimately hopeful) story of Gerren Taylor – the almost rhetorical question “Does America have an unhealthy obsession with beauty?” conjures a unique and provocative answer.
America the Beautiful is currently playing at the Cinema Village 12th Street in Manhattan.
America the Beautiful (movie 2007) cast & crew
Direction & Screenplay: Darryl Roberts.
Featuring: Martin Short, Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, Ted Casablanca, Eve Ensler.
Cinematography: Gavin Wynn.
Film Editing: Stela Georgieva & Charles Miller.
Music: Michael Bearden.
Producers: Darryl Roberts, Kurt Engfehr, Stela Georgieva, and Roderick Gatlin.
Production Company: Sensory Overload Entertainment.
Distributors: Arenas Group | First Independent Pictures.
Running Time: 105 min.
Country: United States.
“America the Beautiful (Movie 2007): Predatory Beauty + Fashion Industries” review text © Doug Johnson; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes © Alt Film Guide.
“America the Beautiful (Movie 2007): Predatory Beauty + Fashion Industries” notes
America the Beautiful debuted at the AFI Dallas Film Festival in March 2007. It had a limited run in the United States in 2008.
America the Beautiful movie credits via the IMDb.
America the Beautiful movie poster: Sensory Overload Productions | First Independent Pictures.
“America the Beautiful (Movie 2007): Predatory Beauty + Fashion Industries” last updated in April 2023.
The problem that is the subject of this film, and so much other handwringing in various media, is quite real. But I don’t think telling people they are putting too much emphasis on making themselves beautiful, or that they shouldn’t care about beauty, lends itself to any beneficial solutions. In a free society there will always be social rewards for beauty, and thus a widespread desire to be beautiful.
What can help counter-balance this is a greater emphasis on other areas of achievement. Particularly, more celebration of intellect. That probably means a return to more merit-based education, which means breaking the stranglehold of the education unions. A boycott of shallow celebrity culture, and culture that celebrates stupidity and vapidity wouldn’t hurt either.
Meanwhile, we should keep a sense of perspective — in a culture where many people are dying of obesity, some impetus to look beautiful isn’t entirely a bad thing.