Gadfly Doc ‘Stink!’ Asks Why There’s Nasty Chemicals in All Our Products


The corporate-trolling documentary genre popularized by Michael Moore is a durable format, still effective in an era when distrust of industry is always the easiest path for consumers. It’s also nurtured by increasingly powerful consumer video technologies and correspondingly lower budgets, and it readily absorbs film styles and conventions, including talking-head interviews, animation, and slideshows.

Though not as funny as Moore’s earliest work, Jon Whelan’s Stink! is way more emotionally affecting. At the outset, the director is calling customer service representatives of the tween lifestyle store Justice because when he opened the plastic packaging for pajamas bought for his daughter, an invisible cloud of fragrance chemicals burst out of it. Whatever they are, they’re undisclosed by the packaging and also by the company’s reps — as are, apparently, the other hundreds of thousands of petroleum-derived, endocrine-inhibiting, cancer-causing chemicals added to basically every product on our shelves, from cleaning supplies to clothing.

Whelan documents the near total lack of U.S. regulation of the chemical industry and the medical problems historically caused by things like flame retardants, lead, and bisphenol A. He confronts trade industry shills, corrupt politicians, and indifferent retail executives.

Like any of these documentaries, this one’s all over the map, but Whelan grounds it in his family. His wife, Heather, died from cancer several years ago, and Whelan intersperses his journalistic endeavor with home video of her and his bright young daughters, questioning whether the chemical industry’s secrets contributed to her death. As he reminds his children, another word for “secrets” — be they kept, stolen, or disclosed — is “truth.”


Directed by Jon J. Whelan

Net Return Entertainment

Opens November 27, Cinema Village