‘I think that men are having an identity crisis, but they don’t really know it.” So says “biological anthropologist” Helen Fisher, speaking in Mansome, Morgan Spurlock’s anecdotal pop documentary about masculine self-presentation in the 21st century, which allegedly attempts to define that crisis.
Mansome is divided into chapters—”The Beard,” “The Products,” “The Hair”—which in turn focus on eccentric subjects identified with each: a sad-eyed competitive beardsman named “Jack Passion,” the manufacturer of a self-explanatory grooming gel called Fresh Balls, and an elderly Italian-American who runs a hair-replacement business in Yonkers. In interstitial bits that weld the disparate material together, co-executive producers Will Arnett and Jason Bateman show up, cracking wise through a salon makeover and setting the jokey tone. For Mansome‘s every truth (“Masculinity is performed for the evaluative eyes of other men”), there are a few dozen limp “bits” provided by a roundtable of talking-head funnymen, including Zach Galifianakis, Judd Apatow—whose career has largely depended on that masculine “identity crisis”—and, as defender of old-guard machismo, occupational boor Adam Carolla, giving the riff on shower gel that positively no one has been waiting for.
While making a priority of squeezing in every usable bit of celebrity face-time, Mansome passes by potentially interesting digressions without more than a wayward glance. “I think what’s happening now in the United States,” Fisher says, “is that men are finally allowed to decorate themselves.” The particularly American brand of masculinity that’s being discussed—the Euros, after all, have been managing sartorial machismo for some time—is hardly defined. Likewise, the interplay between homo- and heterosexual ideals of manhood is only mentioned cautiously, all-important class is mentioned not at all, and the few culture-clash specimens that Mansome turns up—a New York City clothing buyer of Sikh origins who remembers being the only turban-wearing kid in his high school, an Arab pro wrestler who has to go through a whole-body shave before performing as villain “Abdul Bashir”—are given only cursory treatment.
With the phony muckracking of 2004’s Super Size Me, Spurlock came to prominence as an in-front-of-the-camera personality documentarian. Here he appears on-screen only briefly, shaving his “trademark” mustache for charity and reminding viewers that his first public-eye gig was the MTV gross-out dare show I Bet You Will—which seems like the sort of glib entertainment he’s best suited to, given the total failure of Mansome to engage with its topic on any meaningful level. It’s the last thing you want a movie about appearances to be: superficial.