It’s not all Michael Jackson. America’s obsession with staying young and beautiful through augmentation has ballooned to a $60 billion annual industry, with almost 10 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures combined performed in 2009. And it’s seemingly recession-proof, too, as a recent industry report noted only a two percent drop from the previous year. Vanity? Mere modern, auto-style maintenance for humans? Whatever you call it, the death-grip of that personal panic forms the basis of the new-to-DVD documentary Make Me Young, which originally premiered on HBO under the title Youth Knows No Pain, and gets a longer, unedited cut here, replete with bonus features.
The daughter of the former chief of plastic surgery at Michigan’s biggest hospital, and a self-professed “product girl” more than a little panicked about turning 38, director Mitch McCabe begins her quest into America’s relationship with aging by examining her own preoccupation with short-term remedies (hair coloring, for her), and crosses the country to speak with surgeons, multi-procedure patients and even a would-be Jack Nicholson look-a-like. In turning the camera on herself and her own upbringing, and serving as her own narrator, McCabe presses the question: why are we obsessed with turning back the clock?
McCabe chats up doctors and a collection of industry types (Allure editor-in-chief Linda Wells, authors Charla Krupp and Nicholas Perricone) to get their perspectives, and begins her travels across the country doing sit-down, very formal interviews. She quickly hones in on a small handful of subjects, however, and develops surprisingly intimate bonds with them. Among these are several plastic surgery aficionados, most notably 53-year-old Sherry Meecom (above), a cheerful Dallas housewife who readily undergoes the knife in her pursuit of personal fulfillment, and Southern California-based Norman Deesing, who’s spent more than $50,000 to transform himself from a short, balding dude into a happily (re-)married man who gets music video work as a Jack Nicholson doppelganger. There’s also creepy Houston plastic surgeon Dr. Franklin Rose, and his busty (non-enhanced) 25-year-old daughter Erica Rose (who would later go on to achieve notoriety as a participant on The Bachelor and VH-1’s You’re Cut Off).
Make Me Young is fairly facile, and engaging throughout. McCabe peppers her film liberally with family home video footage and all sorts of (potentially embarrassing) asides, which makes it fairly relatable, and probably even further endearing to women. For better or worse, she is the prism through which this issue is being examined, not unlike Michael Moore in his films. If there’s a knock on the movie, it’s that it does dawdle more than a bit with some of its interviewees, which, when paired with McCabe’s more laid-back personality and style, can give off a bit of an aimless vibe.
Yes, Make Me Young admirably avoids alarm-bell advocacy, and lets viewers form their own opinions about both McCabe’s subjects and their choices. (A plastic surgeon cooing, “What bothers you would bother me,” ranks among the creepiest professional come-ons; it just seems something one does not particularly want to hear from a supposed medical professional.) But sometimes one longs for a pinch of subjective fire (a couple such moments exist in the excised scenes), or some more naked conflict, rather than the movie’s studied, professorial, birds-eye view. And a bit more of an intellectually ambitious film would have perhaps tried to incorporate a look at mainstream mass media portrayals of retirement-age men and women, and how that in turn effects our own personal relationships with aging. Still, these are sins of omission, not commission. On balance, Make Me Young makes for an entertaining look at adult vanity, which we all possess, to varying degrees. Oh, and Lyndsay Bertie? Fret not — your smile is not noticeably asymmetrical, no.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Make Me Young comes to DVD on a region-free disc. Its ample bonus features consist of an engaging feature-length audio commentary track from McCabe, as well as a seven-minute behind-the-scenes featurette in which she talks about the state of Texas representing a breakthrough point in her interview travels for the movie. (Apparently everything really is bigger in Texas, including folks’ honesty about their surgical procedures.) There are also six deleted scenes running approximately 20 minutes; the most interesting of these, which would have made for a nice inclusion in the movie, involves a trip to a cryogenics lab and storage facility. There are also a half dozen extended interviews as well. For more information, click here. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, meanwhile, click here. B- (Movie) B+ (Disc)