MANOLO: THE BOY WHO MADE SHOES FOR LIZARDS
Director: Michael Roberts
Running Time: 1:29
Release Date: 9/15/17 (limited); 9/22/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 21, 2017
The main takeaway of Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards is that Manolo Blahnik makes really great shoes. They're beautiful, according to an assortment of fashion designers and experts, and very comfortable, as the models who have worn them on the runway for years keep pointing out over the course of the movie. Director Michael Roberts has montages of the shoes, loving shots of Blahnik designing them, and solitary shots of the footwear set against lovely backdrops of nature. If not for the fact that this documentary breezes through Blahnik's life story, one could be forgiven for thinking that the movie is little more than advertisement for Blahnik's line of shoes.
That becomes the overwhelming sense of the movie, anyway, since it gives little information about what makes the shoes or, for that matter, Blahnik unique, save for the fact that the shoes and, by extension, the man are popular. One person at least describes Blahnik's design process, although it's not the man himself and the process is basically that he has the ability to take in anything that he sees. From that well of cultural and artistic influence, apparently filled by means of mental osmosis, he can pull pretty much anything and make a shoe that is, again, beautiful and really, really comfortable to wear.
It can't be emphasized enough how often the interview subjects fall back on these simple talking points. I'm not suggesting that something was happening behind the scenes to push a narrative to sell the shoes. I'm simply saying that either the interviewees don't have much to say or the more interesting discussion ended up on the cutting room floor. The second option seems unlikely. There's a moment at which Anna Wintour, the famed editor-in-chief of Vogue, has a lengthy pause during a story she's telling—about a designer who "lost it all"—as she seems to be deciding how best to diplomatically continue with what a story. She doesn't continue, of course. There's another moment in which actor Rupert Everett appears to be yawning while he's finishing up some nice words about Blahnik.
Blahnik himself doesn't have much to say, either. He comes across as a humble, if at times difficult, man, who admits that he has no thoughts about his fame or his legacy. That's a somewhat refreshing sentiment coming from a world-renowned man of 74, but in terms of piquing our interest about his life and career, it's not much with which to work.
The movie begins with his childhood at a home somewhere on the Canary Islands of Spain, where he used to catch lizards with chocolate. That's the end of the story suggested by the subtitle, by the way, save for a shot of a lizard crawling on a shoe near the end of the movie. From there, it's to Paris as a young man, to swinging London of the '70s a year or two later, and to New York, to introduce himself to another hub of the fashion world.
Plenty of names are dropped, mostly by the people who know Blahnik—famous models, designers, and Princess Diana, whose purchase of a pair of his shoes made him a household name. There was also a scene from an episode of "Sex and the City," in which the protagonist was more concerned about her Manolo Blahnik shoes being stolen by a mugger than anything else that was taken, that help solidify his brand in the popular culture. The scene, of course, plays out in full, and the disembodied voice f director Sofia Coppola talks about the thrill of getting boxes of his shoes on the set of her Marie Antoinette.
The movie is strangely all over the place, with diversions into classical statues (Blahnik discuss his favorite feet among the works of art) and gardening. It's as if Roberts showed up to meet with Blahnik without much purpose or a particular aim for the story he wanted to tell. Not wanting to make a big deal of himself, Blahnik doesn't help with the purpose of the movie or an aim of his story. That's not his fault. It's not much help, either.
That means the documentary is neither a biography nor an assessment of its subject's influence on the world of fashion. Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards is a rambling, unfocused, and pretty dull hodgepodge of random stories, strange deviations, a collection of famous people, and an ode to shoes, which even the hero of "Sex and the City" admits that she had to buy when they were on sale.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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