Opening with “vintage” black-and-white footage of women from the Fifties huffing and puffing through antiquated exercise routines, set to Bruce Channel’s “Hey, Baby,” the ostensible investigative documentary America the Beautiful establishes its de-facto glibness within seconds. Throughout the course of the film, further video montages will be set to such ferociously on-topic chestnuts as Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People,” and Letters to Cleo’s “I Wanna Be a Supermodel,” ironically backing images of primped, preening girls or magazine model cut-outs. Director Darryl Roberts’s mode of address is so hackneyed and juvenile, and the editing strategies and muddy non-aesthetic so predictable, that one has to try and look beyond the surface of things to find any value here; after all, that’s what Roberts himself has attempted to do in making it.
Narrated, rather awkwardly, by its maker and occasional leading man and “truth”-seeker, America the Beautiful is fashioned as a vaguely Michael Moore-esque diary film, in which Roberts’s average Joe goes out into Big Bad America to document its (gasp) fascination with beauty. The results of his search are as wide-ranging as his cursory topic, and so wildly unfocused that the film seems to suffer from some form of ADD—in the odd moment that Roberts will train his camera on a somewhat compelling subject or reveal a nugget of almost worthwhile data, he’s already jumped to a new train of thought. There’s quite an overhaul of cultural diagnosis going on here, unfortunately little of it is depicted or expanded upon in any revelatory way: the effects of unattainable beauty imagery on young girls, teenage bulimia, media image manipulation, cosmetic surgery malpractice, the dangers of FDA-approved beauty products, etc. By the time Roberts visits the webmasters of the online dating service beautifulpeople.net, framed as a fascistically exclusive club, one’s eyes may begin to cross, wondering how and if any of these strands will meaningfully dovetail, and whether anything will be uncovered other than that (surprise!) it’s all about the bottom line: Beauty sells. Really?!