Toxic Beauty


There is truth in beauty; there are also lies.

 (2019) Documentary (1091) Mel Lika, MyMy Nguyen, Deanne Borg, Mary Kaplan, Shaeda Farooqi, Beverly Robinson, Claudette Dupris, Emily Nguyen, Dr. Shruthi Mabaiangala. Directed by Phyllis Ellis

 

Beauty may well only be skin deep, but the products that men and women use for beauty and hygiene have effects far deeper than that in this chilling documentary. Revolving largely around the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson that claimed that the company knew that there were carcinogens in their talcum powder that were routinely used not just for baby care but also for skin care – one woman remarked that she liked to sprinkle the stuff in her bed because she like the scent, the film builds its case much like a trial lawyer – with plenty of anecdotal evidence backed up by science.

There are several compelling characters to be found in the film, among them former intelligence officer Mel Lika who found herself, once thought to be something of a superhero among her peers, stricken by ovarian cancer. Likewise was the case of Deanne Borg, the South Dakota mom who instigated the suit against Johnson and Johnson. My favorite though is med student and fashion/make-up influencer MyMy Nguyen, who was brought up to admire the European standard of beauty and was urged by her mom to lighten her skin and dye her hair blonde. When a tumor was found in her breast, rather than chalking her experience to bad luck she decided to run some tests to find up if her make-up routine was contributing to her disease. She approached it logically and thoroughly and the results that came back were definitely disturbing.

We hear from litigators, legislators, medical professionals, researchers, scientists and of course, victims. Ellis doesn’t shortchange her audience with facts, although the parade of testimony can be overwhelming, and the scientific evidence presented can be on the dry side. Some may find themselves getting glassy-eyed at times, but stick with this – it’s important stuff. Men who may be thinking “well, that’s a woman’s problem,” should think again; toxic chemicals like mercury, formaldehyde, arsenic and lead can be found in shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, deodorant and toothpaste.

Readers who live in the European Union may be pleased to know that stricter regulations there make this particular problem more of an American issue. Lobbyists and lawyers have essentially suborned the FDA and Congress into writing legislation friendly to large corporations so that they may continue to maximize profits by using less expensive materials and processes at the expense of human lives, and as we meet some of the women involved here and discover how these products that are supposed to be safe have destroyed lives and yes, taken them (one of the victims here passed away shortly after filming was completed).

There is unlikely to be any help anytime soon, particularly with the business-friendly Republicans in power. The corporations have the kind of money that buys politicians; consumers do not. The short-term solution is simple; stop buying this shit. There are clean products out there; find out what they are and start using them. If enough people start doing it, either these businesses will adjust to the new paradigm or fail. Survival of the fittest applies to consumerism as well.

This isn’t an easy documentary to watch and at times you may feel like you’re back in high school chemistry and just as clueless now about it as you were then. Hang in there; it is important that you know what you are putting on and, in your body, information big corporations (and some little ones) don’t want you to have. Knowledge is power; use it.

REASONS TO SEE: Presents a powerful case.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be guilty of overkill – some of the information presented gets a little bit dense.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scientific studies on the subject warned about toxic substances in beauty and hygiene products as far back as 1933.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  Stink!
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Olympic Dreams

Love, Gilda


Gilda and Gene as a couple were amazingly cute.

(2018) Documentary (Magnolia) Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder, Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lorne Michaels, Michael F. Radner, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, Paul Shaffer, Stephen Schwartz, Alan Zweibel, Robin Zweibel, Rosie Shuster, Cecily Strong, Andrew Alexander, Janis Hirsch, Anne Beatts. Directed by Lisa DaPolito

 

It’s not taking a controversial stance by declaring that Gilda Radner was one of the greatest comedians of her era and one of the greatest ever. Although she passed away at a too-young 43 in 1989, her best work on Saturday Night Live still holds up even now, 40 years later.

It’s hard to believe but for most people under 30 she’s been gone their entire lifetime. Fortunately there’s a documentary that will not only play on the nostalgic chords of baby boomers and others who are middle aged, it may introduce her to a whole new generation that didn’t get to be captivated by her amazing smile, who didn’t get to enjoy her compelling characters or laugh at her gentle humor.

The documentary is mostly told in Radner’s own words as we hear excerpts of her audio recordings that she used while writing her autobiography It’s Always Something which would be published two weeks after her death. She was also an insatiable diarist and we get to hear some of her most intimate thoughts read by modern comedians (and SNL alumni themselves) like Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy and Amy Poehler.

We also get to see plenty of home movies of her youth, backstage footage from her debut performance in Godspell in Toronto as well as from her one-woman Broadway show after her stint on SNL came to an end (but strangely, very little backstage or rehearsal footage from SNL itself). There are also some home movies from her brief but fulfilling marriage to Gene Wilder, some of it taken during cancer treatments during the last years of her life. Even though she remained optimistic despite the advanced stages of her ovarian cancer when it was detected, there came a point when she knew she wasn’t going to survive and she confessed as much to some of her closest friends. She faced the end with grace and humor as you might expect.

Radner was never a radical feminist but she did a lot of trailblazing for women particularly in the field of comedy which was then definitely a boys club (and is still so to a lesser but still profound effect today). Female comics revere her and rightfully so for that reason. She made inroads not by demonstrating but by doing; she wasn’t the sort to get in anyone’s face and scream. She knew there was discrimination against women but in her own non-confrontational way she fought against it. It didn’t hurt that nobody could deny she wasn’t as hysterically funny as her male counterparts, maybe more so in a lot of cases.

Given the amount of personal information and observations that the filmmakers were privy to, some aspects of her life seem to have little flesh on them when displayed here. We get that she spent most of her life looking for true love and being devastated when her latest boyfriend or husband (Wilder was her third marriage) didn’t work out. She wanted to be adored, but was intrinsically shy and preferred privacy even as she loved being in front of people, perhaps less than being with people. At least, that’s what I can glean from what is shown here; I may be way off-base. That’s the problem with documentary movies; the filmmaker has an hour and a half to dig into a life so often we are just left with the highlights and not so much with the blanks being filled in. I really wanted DaPolito to spend more time on her relationship with Wilder but we really didn’t get much more than we could glean from reading contemporary accounts in People magazine.

Radner’s fans will likely love the stroll down memory lane but be disappointed by the insight of which there could have been a lot more. I also found it surprising that the only members of the original cast to appear in the documentary were Newman and Chase; Aykroyd, Curtin and Morris are not to be seen nor is Bill Murray and his brother Brian (both of whom dated Radner at separate times back in the day) from the second season. That’s a shame to me and I don’t know why the missing members declined to appear (if indeed they did) or why DaPolito failed to ask them (if she didn’t).

Still, it is a worthy tribute to one of the most iconic performers of her era, one whose influence still resonates in the comedy business today. Even if it isn’t entirely satisfying from one hoping to gain more insight into what made her tick, I think for most people this is another – or maybe a first – opportunity to love Gilda.

REASONS TO GO: The excerpts from classic SNL sketches still hold up well. The journal entries are both poignant and illuminating.
REASONS TO STAY: The section on her relationship with Gene Wilder could have used some fleshing out.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Radner based her Emily Litella character on her nanny whom she considered her second mom.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/25/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Painless