Documentary ‘Mansome’ takes on manscaping, moustaches & masculinity
What does it take to be a man? What does that term even mean? It’s an internal debate many gay guys have had since pre-adolescence, when they first learned to “act straight” — and one many gay adults who claim to be “straight acting” on their hookup profiles still seem to wrestle with.
Outwardly at least, there are some indicia of what a man is … or are there? After documentaries that tackle obesity, marketing and the Muslim world, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has turned his sights on a comparatively frivolous topic in Mansome, exploring such weighty issues as the conflict between metrosexuality and bear culture, and what’s in between.
More than a behavioral analysis of detailed gender roles (from the hunter mentality to parenting to interaction with women), Mansome is refreshingly superficial, dealing almost exclusively with looks — and most particularly, hair. Growing a moustache or beard is “something men can do that women can’t,” as one hirsute commentator observes, and therein lies the heart of this engaging, occasionally thoughtful but often silly documentary: Guys defining themselves by the surface differences with the fairer sex.
Men are “becoming more preoccupied with our looks,” Spurlock notes with pedestrian insight; anyone who started watching Queer Eye a decade ago could have told you that … or anyone who has been to a gay club in the last 20 years. But Mansome dissects the culture with calculating smartness. And the key: Hair.
Hair — “back, sack and crack” as someone says, though you can add face and chest — help define a man as man. Hair is power … just ask Samson.
In fact, Spurlock never even brings up Samson, focusing instead on real-world folks with definite opinions about hair. There’s John Waters, gay gross-out movie director and notorious sporter of the pencil-thin moustache. (The movie catalogues the many types of lip tickler, from the handlebar to the horseshoe, trucker, walrus, Fu Manchu, toothbrush and more. It’s about “embrac[ing your] inner porn star,” as the moustachioed Spurlock notes.) There’s Jack Passion, a strange “bearsdman” whom Waters accurately diagnoses as being controlled by his beard more than controlling it. (He’s like a sommelier of facial hair, waxing philosophic about its meaning while driving to beard competitions in his primer-colored Chevy.) There’s the toupee king, the metrosexual yuppie, the hunk who shaves his body until it glistened like a peeled pear.
While Spurlock scours the world great moments in hairstory, Will Arnett and Jason Bateman enjoy a bromantic spa day of mani-pedis, facials and shared mud-baths, riffing on their own ideas of masculinity.
But Mansome misses the essential aspect of male vanity that straight men and many women don’t get and gay men do: That masculinity isn’t one thing. No one wants to mate with a smelly guy, Bateman declares, but he’s obviously never been to the Eagle after a rugby tournament. Indeed, the movie largely avoids directly addressing the issue of sexual orientation as it relates to grooming, with the exception that Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian says beard contests are “kinda gay” and thinks about the same of men who shave their bodies.
Ian’s vague gay-baiting aside, a number of hairy and man-thinking celebs weigh in on the issues, and what a difference tone makes. Adam Carolla comes off as a smug, slightly homophobic ignoramus spouting lame observations that aren’t funny (he wallows in his own uninformed bliss), while Paul Rudd and Zach Galifianakis riff with puckish whimsy about the silliness of man-care. The former seems like a bigot; the other, bemused comics. And, of course, that’s kind of the point.
If Carolla nearly dooms the movie, making it hard to watch with his snaggle-toothed cynicism, seeing pro wrestler Shawn Daivari (“Abdul Bashir” to his fans) shaving his body almost completely nude is worth the price of admission alone. Or maybe that’s just me. I like hair, but sex appeal? You can’t put a label — or mousse — on attraction.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 18, 2012.