Symptoms Movie Reviews
As a slightly titillating drama made in 1997 based around the history of a somewhat squalid industry, in which a comic strand early on is crowded out by darker, more troubling themes as things progress, it has quite a lot in common with "Boogie Nights". But "Boogie Nights" is a much better movie.
If all of that doesn't make it clear enough, Breast Men is about a lot more than just breast implants. It tells the true (though the facts of the story are obviously given a rather broad interpetation) story of the two Houston doctors who, in 1962, first perfected the silicon breast implant. First hailed as swinger pioneers for a sexist age, the doctors eventually have a falling out and spend the rest of their lives competing against each other and defending their invention against feminists and various social critics. The film becomes about how both of these men were both made famous and eventually destroyed by, what seemed at first to be, a rather harmless and quirky discovery.
Director Lawrence O'Neil keeps the story moving but at times, his direction is a little bit too flashy. Often times, one gets the feeling that he is displaying style for the sake of style and he often times seems to rely on cliches in order to convey the passage of time as opposed to establishing a true feel for the many decades covered by the film. Therefore, the film's success is dependent upon the two lead performances and the screenplay. Luckily, all three are up to the task. As the older, more conservative doctor, Chris Cooper is wonderful in a role that doesn't allow for much showy theatrics. Playing a rather self-righteous cad, Cooper is often times unlikeable but always watchable and its a performance that will take those who know him only from American Beauty, Lonesome Dove, and various John Sayles films by surprise. The younger doctor -- who eventually becomes addicted to cocaine and is basically an all-around sleazebag, is played by erstwhile sensitive Friend David Schwimmer. Since Schwimmer has been typecast as Ross Geller, it is at first jarring to see him playing such a reprehensible character and in a few scenes, he does seem to be trying to hard to make us forget his more famous role. However, as the film progresses, Schwimmer eventually wins the audience over until, by the film's rather surprising ending, he is totally believable in the role. Schwimmer, in other words, proves that he can act and his performance leaves one curious to see what will become of him once Friends finally ends it run.
Lastly the screenplay, by former actor John Stockwell, provides a quirkiness and originality that is missing from the film's direction. Stockwell, a Texan who obviously understands the mileu that produced both his two main characters and the silicon breast implant itself, was a likeable presence in several forgettable teen films in the 1980s (Losing It and Christine being the best known). However, it is as a writer and, more recently with Crazy/Beautiful, as a director that he has truly proven himself to be a viable and worthwhile talent. His screenplay is full of sharply humorous lines that manage to retain their bite even when the film's direction lets them down. As with his other screenplays, Stockwell creates memorable, deeply flawed characters who are interesting and watchable not despite but instead because of their flaws. As well, while his script isn't shy about exploring the sort of sexist humor and game playing that goes hand-in-hand with the whole industry of breast enlargement (this isn't a movie that compromises itself to be an easier pill to swallow), he also never obscures or overplays the dangers or the larger implications of that industry.
Breast Men is many things -- a wild story that is all the more insane for being based on fact, a dark comedy, a vivid character examination, and a sharp examination of how we define and codify physical beauty. But in the end, it is a triumph for Stockwell, Cooper, and especially Schwimmer. Ignore the title and all that it may falsely imply. Instead, just watch the movie and enjoy the chance to discover some truly unsung talent.