Review: Mansome (2012)

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MANSOME, from documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) aims to answer the question of what does being a man mean in the age of the “metrosexual”. Despite featuring entertaining, engaging interviewees giving their opinion on the subject, the debate is never really arrives at a satisfying conclusion. That’s a shame, because the film ends up being an enjoyable, tantalising journey that leaves you ultimately feeling a little hollow and intellectually unfulfilled.

Never above using himself as a guinea pig for his studies, Spurlock here shaves off his distinctive moustache, much to the distress of his young son, who isn’t sure he “looks like daddy” anymore. Following taking the plunge and picking up a razor, we have an amusing scene with Spurlock walking down the street with his son on his shoulders and a massive, bright orange stick-on moustache adorning his face to keep his kid happy. That’s one of the key aspects of the subject that the film keeps coming back to – every man’s “look” is part of who he is, and he becomes very attached to it over time.

The documentary is divided into chapters each focussing on an aspect of masculinity. Moustaches, beards, hair and extensive personal grooming are all covered, with a focus case-study, “experts” and usually a celebrity endorser to add a bit more colour (for example, John Waters champions the moustache, Zach Galifianakis the beard).

The filmed discussions do go into interesting territories. For instance, a champion beard-grower sees someone tugging on his facial hair as equivalent to groping a woman’s breasts (hardly, but I can kind of see what he’s getting at). We also get a discussion of the culture of self-image and grooming in professional wrestling (articulated well by a naturally hirsute wrestler of Middle Eastern stock who battles body hair daily to match his audience’s expectations of how someone in the ring should look).

The film is, disappointingly, limited to a predominantly heterosexual, American perspective. This makes sense because this is Spurlock’s background, and he’s sticking to what he knows, but it would have been enlightening and would have added much-needed depth to the debate to hear perspectives from outside of the USA, or even one interviewee acknowledging that some men go out to pick up other men in bars. The only times the film promises another stance is a brief comment from one of the talking heads who finds the term “metrosexual” homophobic and deeply offensive, as he sees it as heterosexual men trying to distance themselves from being seen as gay while adopting gay stereotypes. They admit that they groom, but have to make it abundantly clear that they are attracted to women just in case anyone’s perceptions are coloured. There’s also a brief mention of the concept that straight men want to look a particular way primarily to impress other men rather than women, but why this is the case is never really explored. No sooner than these promising lines of questioning are brought up, they’re dropped again as the film wraps up. If only this topics had been brought up earlier and allowed to be adequately explored, it would have made for much more of a thought-provoking hour and a half.

I also found the pre-scripted interludes featuring Will Arnett and Jason Bateman incredibly grating, and a little smug. No matter how self-aware and likeable they both are as personalities, you don’t need to see them getting massages and sharing a hot tub, and it just feels like the producers wanted to give themselves something fun to do. These vignettes might have looked like a fun little idea on paper, but ultimately they’re distracting and unnecessary.

Mansome makes for a very watchable documentary for the most part, and sheds some light on a subject that has become a favourite topic of discussion in the media in recent years. The age-old concept of what it means to be a man is now much more malleable and open to debate, but the debate isn’t presented in the most satisfying way here. It’s fun, and funny to watch, and the content is presented breezily, but we’re still due a really clever, provocative and balanced documentary about how masculinity is no longer so simply defined. I do now know what “bat wings” are when referring to the male anatomy. I really wish I didn’t. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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