By Michael Koresky | Indiewire February 17, 2009 at 8:07AM
[An indieWIRE review from Reverse Shot.]
It's doubtful anyone unfamiliar with Bravo's series "Project Runway" will buy tickets to see the new documentary "Eleven Minutes," even though Michael Selditch and Rob Tate's film goes to great lengths to distance itself from that most trend-setting of TV reality shows. In its behind-the-scenes portrayal of "Runway"'s season one winner Jay McCarroll, as he readies his first line for showcase and, hopefully, sale, "Eleven Minutes" is less ruminative than experiential. Rather than contrive situations to bolster its star, whose own alternately bubbly and caustic personality was obviously a deciding factor in his once rocketing popularity, Selditch and Tate focus definitively on process, the arduousness of getting from here to there. The result is highly watchable, if predictably linear, and any sense of suspense the film might generate on the part of the viewer probably will parallel his or her level of appreciation of McCarroll himself. In other words, this is not a top-down look at New York fashion, but rather one man's journey and slowly evolving reckoning with his own talents and limitations--but as a documentary's protagonist, does McCarroll compel enough?
With his preternaturally wizened visage and jutting, bearded chin, the thirtysomething McCarroll has been something of an iconic figure for "Project Runway," an idiosyncratic emblem of the fashionably grotesque. Though the show's challenges have in subsequent seasons become more self-defeatingly over-thought and sometimes misguided in their "imaginative" reach, the winning designers have proven themselves as increasingly more cohesive in their thinking. McCarroll stood out at the show's inception for his boldness, though his style perhaps stuck out in all directions. Therefore it's relatively invigorating to watch him, over a year after his time on the series had ended, build a new line from scratch--in this case, "Transport," approved and sponsored by the Humane Society. Racing against a seemingly insurmountable clock, McCarroll and his loyal (though stressed and occasionally backbiting) associates rush to the premiere of their line, only a few months away: shipping materials, constructing the clothes, selecting the models, paying for advertising, praying for sales. All for, as the title augurs, eleven minutes on the runway.
These eleven minutes, McCarroll says, are "like a long shit," a simile that says as much about the struggle for artistic validation and catharsis as it does about the designer's own penchant for carefully chosen vulgar self-expression. If "Eleven Minutes" is persuasive at all, it's mostly in its tireless accumulation of the minutiae of work and how it can overtake a life, especially in an industry as unforgiving and exclusive as that of fashion. Rarely do we see McCarroll anywhere but in his offices or workshops, and though this may have been because of a ground rule set at the beginning of the shoot, the final result convinces that sometimes the dogged pursuit of dreams unmoors one from the rest of life.
And what's at the end of the rainbow for Jay McCarroll? Crossed fingers for a few sales to retailers like Urban Outfitters. This is not the glamorous world of Isaac Mizrahi's "Unzipped": two of the biggest names floated about who might attend the runway show include 'N Sync's JC Chasez and drag queen Lady Bunny. Yet it's this sense of downsized expectations that ultimately helps "Eleven Minutes" and McCarroll, who has since gone on to launch an online boutique, retain their charm for more than 100 minutes.
[Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and the managing editor and staff writer of the Criterion Collection.]