Funny, smart and delightfully in-your-face: they're not your typical descriptors for a documentary, but they fit "Beauty is Embarrassing" to a tee.
This slightly off-kilter style is courtesy of subject Wayne White, irreverent artist and designer of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse." He pilots the 87-minute journey through his life and career with wry modesty and, together with commentary from collaborators Matt Groening, Paul Reubens and others, gives the audience a look inside his topsy-turvy past, present and future.
As if the description wasn't enough to convince you how unconventional this doc really is, director Neil Berkeley chooses to set the tone almost immediately with a sample of White's brazenly entertaining artworks. The presentation is paired with White's own deadpan commentary as he delivers his statements about his detailed scenes, which each come emblazoned with their own middle-finger-to-society word or phrase.
The multi-talented White comes off likeable from the outset. He discusses his work, his family and his past creative endeavors with exactly the same good-natured attitude. His recollections of his art catalog's less-than-positive early critiques and his musings over his multiple awards are equally genuine and self-deprecating.
After watching him gleefully show off his brash art pieces and muse over his family of artists (which includes his wife and two adult children), you get the sense that he's not just thumbing his nose at society's conventions, but rather taking them with a grain of salt as companion pieces to his true love for his work, friends and relatives.
This point is made even clearer as "Beauty" moves from his latest work in the art world to discuss his years growing up and starting out in his career. It backtracks to his early years in Tennessee and his first creative pursuits leading up to college. These years are documented not just by White, but by his close family, a handful of school friends and even an old teacher â€“ a close-knit circle of people that speaks silent volumes about White's down-to-earth sensibilities.
The contributions don't stop once "Beauty" moves on to cover White's big-time beginnings in New York and California, either. Adding past "Pee-Wee" contributors, peers from the comedy and art world, art professionals and others gives a great sense of just how big White's impact was as a professional and as a person.
They continue through White's career and "Beauty" recounts his skyrocketing success during the first season piecing together "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" in a New York loft through "Pee-Wee"'s heyday, his work with the Smashing Pumpkins and numerous other television shows.
White has every reason to indulge in bragging, but he's constantly humble. He instead takes every opportunity to discuss his inventive side projects, going into detail about everything from his scrap heap at home to "Flocked Box," the rated-R parallel to "Pee-Wee" he and the crew filmed during downtime. He even approaches the negative, including his later career slump and depression, with a matter-of-fact frankness.
As a documentary, "Beauty" transitions quickly and as a result comes off scattered in places. However, it's smartly framed with a few of White's speaking engagements, which helps map the film's trek through his life's milestones and keep things connected enough to a largely cohesive end. The occasional disjointedness is easily forgiven, though â€“ White's amusing eccentricity and honest demeanor are too compelling for the audience to care about picky details, and by that measure, "Beauty is Embarrassing" is a rousing success.
"Beauty is Embarrassing" shows Oct. 2 at 6:45 p.m. and Oct. 4 at 9 p.m. at the Fox-Bay Cinema and Oriental Theatre.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Renee Lorenz
Published Jan. 11, 2013
Classic gangsters loved a good embarrassment of riches. And for a movie like "Gangster Squad," showing off is fine. But, when the swanky style of the era meets the stylized swank of the movie's own excesses, things get out of hand.
Published Jan. 3, 2013
It feels like not a week goes by without someone posting something about how Facebook's invading everyone's privacy, spying on your browser history, etc., ad nauseum. (These posts are usually made on Facebook, by the way.) I understand the generic concern over the Orwellian slippery slope, but it doesn't take me too long to re-assess and arrive back at my old conclusion: Who cares?
Published Dec. 31, 2012
Although outsiders may not see Milwaukee as a hotbed for the performing arts, locals know there's plenty of talent to go around. And, there are numerous venues across the city that proudly show off area actors, dancers and musicians. But, despite the wide array of opportunities available, Katie Rhyme and Karen Zakrzewski still felt something important was missing.
Published Dec. 25, 2012
Merry Christmas, "Les Miz" lovers - I'm about to hate all over your musical.
Published Dec. 25, 2012
Well, it took director Quentin Tarantino 20 years, but he finally got his Western ... kinda. Although it's fair to say he's been preparing his entire career with his raucously bloody shoot-'em-ups, Tarantino's time warming up has been well spent if "Django Unchained" is the final result
Published Dec. 21, 2012
Unlike most middle-aged men, Judd Apatow can afford a whole garage of Camaros and Mustangs. So, it makes sense that his mid-life crisis would manifest not with a youthful car buy, but by splurging on the production of a new movie.
Published Dec. 19, 2012
They say time flies when you're having fun. I don't know who "they" are (probably those terrifyingly upbeat "glass half full" people), but they nailed it. My 2012 is a blur of exciting times and memorable moments, most of which my lawyers have advised me not to discuss in detail. There's still plenty to talk about, though, and I've shared the highlights below.
Published Dec. 18, 2012
Well, another year of movies is (almost) in the books. Full of many memorable ups and seared-in-my-brain-forever downs, here's my take on the best (and worst) of 2012.
Published Dec. 14, 2012
Eleven years after "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" introduced audiences to the majesty of director Peter Jackson's Middle-earth, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" makes a triumphant return to the mythical land with a new trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."
Published Dec. 12, 2012
After being tasked with putting together an actual wish list, I'm legitimately afraid of the death glare I'll get if I hand over my ultra-practical, completely un-whimsical list of stuff I want. So, I'm posting it here.