Screen Reviews
Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain

Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain

directed by Mitch McCabe

Cinema Libre Studio /HBO Documentary Films

Make Me Young: Youth Knows No Pain

Something’s gonna get you. We’re all bound for death, and the best we can do is hold out as long as possible and have some fun along the way. But some people fight back, kicking and screaming over every wrinkle, every birthday divisible by 5, and constantly longing for how they looked five years ago when they were just as freaked about that particular birthday. There’s a huge industry set up to exploit these men and women – Botox and face lifts and boob jobs and $400 jars of Crisco claiming to “reprogram your DNA.” What does all this technology accomplish? It gives us a society that looks like Barbara Walters on a hibachi and plastic surgeons who own small islands like Manhattan. In this “Made For HBO” documentary, McCabe traces her childhood as the daughter of a respected plastic surgeon. Daddy survived Vietnam and learned the bloody trade of giving war heroes new faces after the VC blew them off. He headed for Detroit and raised a family, did his job well, and died in a car accident that no one could have prevented. McCabe worries over her first wrinkle at 13 and now at 38 she explores her father’s photo gallery of patients and asks a few dozen Americans, “What are you doing to stay young? Why are you doing it? Did it work?”

The answers cover the Lipofront. A Texas woman gets her boobs enhanced, her face remapped and her wardrobe purged as she seeks approval from hubby. Self-centered Dr. Norman remakes himself as a Jack Nicholson lookalike and finds a career in rap videos. A buff Hispanic man who lost his looks at 30 bursts into tears at the prospect of not leaving a good looking corpse. Interviews with surgeons and journalists are even more disturbing. Product formulator Les Riley, of a company called Obagi, doubletalks his way through the sort of pseudo-science that fills beauty magazines while Dr. Frederick Brant claims (truthfully) to be the largest buyer of Botox in the world. Beauty writer Paula Begoun debunks the claims, but no one listens to her; she’s not promising the age-obsessed what they want, and what if, just maybe, this next operation or tube of gook will make them gorgeous? Self-esteem is in short supply, and credit cards can go a long way to buying a temporary delay. It’s a sad, sad life these people live.

McCabe presents these stories in a flat, no-opinion manner, which makes the storytelling more poignant. Dr. Norman insults her on camera, pointing out, “She’s let herself go” and “People who don’t make themselves look good annoy me.” She reaches no on-camera conclusion, but it’s clear the search is what’s important, and no one demands a refund when any product fails. The only really useful advice comes from Simon Noonan, Creative Director of a luxury chain of department stores, who says, “If you’re 80 and want to become a smack addict, do it. What better time to try something new?” It’s cheaper and will make you feel better for just as long.

There’s a special features disc, but it’s principally a short “Making Of” and a long series of outtakes from the interviews which reinforce what you see on the main disc. The patients appear as genuinely nice people even if they are obsessed with themselves and their looks. The doctors and suppliers seem gleefully predatory, particularly the sellers of fancy “Cosmeceuticals.” There’s even a visit to a cryogenic storage vault for corpses (or “patients” as they prefer to call them). That’s the most exotic question of all: who’s going to pay for thawing out cranky old people with ugly DNA and a zombie complexion? Somewhere in this documentary I head this line: “Some people need five years of therapy; others just need a boob job.” Both are equally effective.

Make Me Young:

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