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Fashion on Film: Movie Review, Chasing Beauty

The fashion documentary, Chasing Beauty, sets out to answer a big question, “What is beauty and is it worth the cost?” That’s a lot of ground to cover, so we dive right in with interviews with former supermodels, young model wanna-be’s, photographers, agents, beauty pageant judges, make-up artists, psychologists and plastic surgeons. They all have a take on making it in the glamorous yet cutthroat industry of modeling and/or why beauty is the brass ring of our society today.

Chasing Beauty is a fast-paced documentary, driven forward by the obvious enthusiasm that the makers and the people they interview have for these themes. That certainly makes the film watchable, yet, ironically, it’s partially because of its ambitions that Chasing Beauty fails to come into focus. It casts such a wide net that it succeeds in merely skirting along the surface of its subject. The film doesn’t deliver anything new or probing about modeling, preferring to rehash things we all already know. There are the requisite bits about eating disorders, the dark side of the fashion biz, our youth-obsessed culture, how hard it is to make it as a model and trite platitudes about beauty like “beauty comes from within”. All of these things have been covered ad nauseam on the talk show circuit.

It’s a shame too. In between this well-worn territory, Director Brent Huff has intercut five, personal narratives that could have been the heart of the film. We see five models at different points in their careers. Two former supermodels, Beverly Peele and Hoyt Richards, look back on modeling at the the top of their field, while three young models are following different trajectories in the industry today. Gretchen Stoll is a working, regional model who is looking to make it in the larger market of LA without garnering much success. Ali Stepka is signed to top agency IMG, only to be released from her contract in the middle of the movie. Cory Brandt is a former high-school quarterback, who has moved to LA and is currently attempting to become a shirtless greeter at Abercrombie and Fitch as his first stop on the road to fulfilling his dream of becoming a supermodel.

We see five people with varying levels of success and exposure in the world of modeling. Each one shares the ups and downs of their individual journey in the fashion industry, while all hold in common the resilience needed to make it as a model. The juxtaposition of their perspectives is one of the most interesting things about the film.

Unfortunately, instead of fully leisuring in the details of the narrative arc of their stories and how they intersect (something that the linear nature of film yearns to allow us to do), we are interrupted by an interview with a D-list celebrity like Traci Bingham or a beauty pageant judge singing a bit of The Star Spangled Banner. Moments like these in the film only serve to distract us from what is the most compelling thing about Chasing Beauty -- that there is a human being underneath each beautiful face in the modeling industry.

Available on Netflix 

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