Knight at the Movies Archives
A terrific documentary about America's beauty obsession and a so-so romantic comedy
The poster for Darryl Roberts’ documentary America the Beautiful asks the question “Is America obsessed with beauty?” and
when one considers our plastic surgery, youth oriented, trashy reality show mad culture the answer isn’t just a resounding, ironic
“yes,” it’s a Susan-Powter-Stop-the-Insanity YES!  Stop the Insanity, indeed.

As Roberts’ insightful and entertaining film makes clear, this obsession with physical perfection has wrought inestimable damage to
our collective psyche and worse, doesn’t show any sign of abating.  It’s a huge topic – something so pervasive in the zeitgeist that it
might seem to need a miniseries to do it justice – but Roberts manages to stuff in a lot of sobering statistics as he tackles a host of
the usual culprits (the media, inept plastic surgeons, soulless advertisers, etc.) while unearthing new variations on the topic (there’s
plastic surgery for pets – who knew?) and the humor in the film (and there’s lots of it) isn’t mean spirited.  Roberts’ personal
approach is not unlike that of Michael Moore’s though his spoken commentary isn’t nearly as snarky and you don’t feel him
managing the material.  His approach is looser, more free form and if feels like the personalities come through intact with their
honest responses to his queries (and Roberts, with his shambling, deceptively easy going manner and large comportment could be
the African American doppelganger of Moore).

The film begins with the contrast between two 12 year-old African American girls: Ashley who frankly describes herself as “ugly”
without a whisper of derision or self-pity and Gerren Taylor, her supposed opposite who is destined to become the darling of the New
York designer runway shows.  By the end, in a devastating summing up, Taylor will seem to end up where Ashley has begun.  In-
between Roberts follows Taylor’s ascent as he sidebars into everything from an ad executive talking about women’s different levels
of “beauty involvement,” to a particularly dreadful story of plastic surgery gone wrong, the toxic substances hidden in perfumes and
cosmetics, a website for “beautiful people” only, an anthropologist studying the adverse psychological effects of television’s idea of
beauty on young teenage girls in Fiji, the continued rise of anorexia and bulimia, and on and on.   Eve Ensler, gay gossip columnist
Ted Casablanca, Paris Hilton, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Anthony Kiedis, and assorted other experts on the subject make appearances
as Roberts explores his subject.  

As Roberts’ movie also makes clear the inherent shallowness of the cult of beauty (its narrow parameters align it closely to fascism)
has become blurred with the rise of our celebrity culture (Paris Hilton being venerated for her porn tape, for example).  And our
standards of beauty have become much more rigid with the proliferation of technology, too.  Breathtaking good looks used to be
reserved for movie (and later TV) stars.  Mere mortals couldn’t hope to look like the gods and goddesses on the screen and
honestly, they still can’t (it’s called lighting, make-up and CG effects people) but dismantling and reveling in the flaws of the
airbrushed, carefully constructed non-human facades of the star beauties via the gossip websites and rags hasn’t lessened the
insatiable need to try and physically emulate them (especially for women and a case could be made for gay men as well).  One
question Roberts doesn’t ask (maybe he will in the sequel): who exactly wants to have lips like Lisa Rinna’s or Meg Ryan’s?  Have
their face as pulled tight as Joan Rivers or Wayne Newton’s?  What is wrong with our culture when it applauds these acts of self-

America the Beautiful is a great film – a provocative cautionary tale that fingers crossed, might also act as a wake-up call.  The film
opens Friday and plays exclusively at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.  Don’t miss it.


Whether it’s unintentional or not,
What Happens in Vegas, which stars Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher as a mismatched pair
who wed during a drunken Vegas bacchanal has the same trajectory as the clichéd Vegas rite it parodies.  To wit: there’s the
anticipatory build up (this one not particularly endearing or funny), then the surprising realization that with a couple of drinks or toots
everything tacky and over the top starts to look exciting and enticing.  Next comes the unabashed behavior, the dancing on the bar,
the sexual urges toward that night’s object of misplaced affections and the over the top emotionalism that follows, and finally, the
Big Letdown which occurs the Morning After.  Not surprisingly, the movie, following this same path, has moments of frivolity, a few
well deserved laughs, moments of reflection, and lots and lots of filler in between its shopworn premise.

Dana Fox, who has one other screenwriting credit,
The Wedding Date, is nothing if not an equal opportunity offender – there’s not a
single character or situation in the movie that isn’t remotely stereotypical; not one character that audiences will really gravitate
toward (though Kutcher and Diaz are certainly easy to look at and Kutcher has buffed up as many shirtless scenes attest).  But after
the slow, unfunny start (almost painfully so) the movie picks up enough momentum when it shifts to the Vegas locale (from New
York) that it started to win me over in spite of my serious reservations.  

Then the mismatched Diaz and Kutcher are forced by a judge (played by Dennis Miller) to stay wedded (“Gay people aren’t
destroying the sanctity of marriage – you people are,” he chides the couple) and the picture does slow down again for a series of not
funny, “Odd Couple” like sequences.   But surprisingly, given its thin storyline, it picks up once more.  The rollercoaster, bumpy
rhythm of the movie leads me to think that
What Happens in Vegas will make for a nice first date movie or something not too taxing
for couples looking for a titter here and there.  It’s a movie for a not too demanding audience which is faint praise but praise
Nothing In Common:
America the Beautiful-What Happens in Vegas
Expanded Edition of 5-7-08 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.
*What Happens in Vegas screened after my column deadline but in time for me to include it here