Darryl Roberts' big-hearted, fuzzy-headed message movie America The Beautiful offers a thorough illustration of the limitations of good intentions. Looking and sounding like Cee-Lo Green's lumbering, effete uncle, Roberts blunders amiably and cluelessly through his amateurish eyesore of a documentary on society's obsession with beauty, perpetually searching for a thesis that will transform a shambling mess of half-baked thoughts and pointless digressions into a real documentary. Roberts has the benefit of a rich, under-explored topic—society's impossible beauty standards and their ruinous effects on the psyches of young women—but his conclusions come off as both vague and self-evident. With help from head researcher Captain Obvious, Roberts discovers that advertising exploits sex and promotes unrealistic body images, that there are entire industries built on making women feel bad about how they look, and that modeling is a cruel and Darwinian business, especially for a 13-year-old. Perhaps in future exposes Roberts will uncover that ice is cold and furnaces hot.
The latest in a long line of would-be Michael Moores, Roberts uses a recent break-up as a launching board to explore why women are held to such impossible beauty standards. The documentary's most intriguing scenes follow the meteoric rise of Gerren Taylor, a striking, exuberant model whose career kicked into high gear while she was still in middle school. Taylor is a riveting subject: charismatic, magnetic, and emotionally transparent, but instead of focusing on her, the director wastes time with unedifying detours, like a networking site for beautiful people that rejects Roberts as a member and an exploration of unsafe ingredients in make-up. For every interview subject like Eve Ensler, who has something of value to contribute, there are four or five interviewees seemingly chosen at random, like this one guy who discourses on how women are just naturally dumb and shit.
It's hard to say which is more depressing or telling: that Roberts is so hard up for material that he includes bizarre footage of a possibly stoned Anthony Kiedis complimenting him for having a beautiful handshake or that Kiedis' perplexing praise comes back to play a major role in Roberts' film-capping summation of all he's learned. Though to be fair, Roberts' righteous handshake does appear eminently worthy of praise. It's too bad the same can't be said of his hopelessly muddled film.