With Compelling Arguments and a Shoestring Budget, Unacceptable Levels Feels Like a Family’s Home Movie


Novice filmmaker Ed Brown’s home-movie-as-op-ed Unacceptable Levels wants to scare the biosolids out of you, and it can, but that doesn’t mean it’s a success. It’s hard to disagree with Brown’s premise—that it’s scary to contemplate how much unknown chemical crap has found its way into our food, water, products, and toys. Or at least no one disagrees among the two dozen or so experts Brown interviewed over the course of two years, on days off from his three jobs (say the production notes; he introduces himself to us in the movie as a waiter). Talking heads like Ralph Nader and The Body Toxic author Nena Baker all offer variations on the theme that our exposure to chemicals that may cause adverse health effects is constant and effectively unregulated. There’s industry-funded research out there showing that low levels of a few specific chemicals (out of hundreds or thousands) are not harmful, but no one has studied the cumulative cocktail effect of all those innumerable small doses. Brown’s motivation to start interviewing, he tells us in his incessant Joe Sixpack voiceover, was when his wife suffered a second miscarriage. But she’s also borne two healthy babies, and Brown returns to unremarkably shot footage of the couple’s tow-headed children at play so often you begin to think his real audience is their grandparents—which might be why, in an 76-minute movie, he finds room for a pointless kitchen-table interview with his mother. Shooting on consumer-grade digital video for a shoestring, Brown does what he can to jazz up the visuals and insert a few laughs, making ironic use of clips from 1950s propaganda films touting the better-living-through-chemistry virtues of the industrialized lifestyle.