Film Review: Mansome

Morgan Spurlock can walk the line between &#8220;lovin&#8217; it&#8221; and semi-serious satire like nobody else, and he performs that toe-dance once again in <i>Mansome</i>, a documentary on the topic of male grooming. It&#8217;s a cute enough, <i>au

In his familiar self-as-guinea pig mode, Morgan Spurlock takes it all off in the comic documentary Mansome: This time it’s just his signature handlebar mustache, to see if hair (not clothing or other body parts) makes the man. Once more, autobiographical bits come in handy: The shave takes place in front of his son, Laken, who gets upset. But was it the mustache, or just the change? Things certainly have gotten complicated since the 1970s, when more hair for both sexes simply meant more freedom, sexuality, fun.

Now each follicle carries a special, even debatable significance, for men anyway—plucking, replacing, shaving and sudsing, constantly asking the question: How much hair is too much? Too little? And where should it appear? Some extreme specimens pop up: A side trip takes us to a contest in Europe where champion beard man Jack Passion takes his whole identity from his beard’s length and fullness; it’s phallically stroked by an admiring female fan.

As expected, Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), charmingly, disarmingly interviews experts and celebs, such as the cooler-than-cool director John Waters, who found his look early on and never changed it. The most honest, down-to-earth take on manscaping comes from the blunt-speaking comic Adam Carolla. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher supplies a bit of history about the male impulse to self-decorate, with some amazing images of men in other cultures who’ve worked hard on their own body modification. Yes, it’s a quick comic-book timeline, a Morgan Spurlock romp through history. At least we’re spared the story of Samson.

Mansome is threaded together by clever intervals at a spa day with Jason Bateman and TV’s Will Arnett (“Up All Night,” “Arrested Development”), who happen to be executive producers of the film. Partly “acting out,” wholly wallowing in their pedicures, hot tubs and facials, they dish about what makes a man, and find some value in male beautification. The duo’s other more ironic discussions involve nose hair, ear hair…a cinematic first perhaps, but probably not an entry for any film history textbooks. Easy segue to the self-proclaimed metrosexual who works in the clothing business, admitting that his looks have become his hobby, visits to a cosmetologist a regular thing. Self-care is even more a necessity for a professional wrestler forced to be buffed and beautifully so—a lot more daily trouble than you can imagine.

Cosmopolitan editor Kate White asks if women will feel invaded by the “new” male use of creams, lasers and the like. As a member of the sex at whom some of these efforts are theoretically directed, it would be nice to say “Thanks” to the newly sensitive male for cleaning up so nice. But Mansome, at least by the subjects it shows, implies the main motivation is image for self, peers or work. Maybe it’s their questing that makes them seem vulnerable, even confused, trying so bad to look so good. Former macho men showered, shaved and let it go with Old Spice. Their sexual politics may have been retrograde, but their certainty and lack of self-concern were attractive.

The few remaining classic barber shops Spurlock finds are in New York City’s Queens and Harlem, Southern California and Texas. They do seem a fashion-free haven where loyal habitués can relievedly rely on time-honored rituals and let their hair down, so to speak. Nevertheless, Spurlock’s approach is to poke fun at—yet still celebrate—some of the new products available. “Fresh Balls” is one such featured (“down there” powder can tend to clump). In Mansome—an actual, new word—there’s no muckraking: The only thing that’s exposed is skin, and we’ve seen that before.