Elevate Difference

Youth Knows No Pain

Directed by Mitch McCabe

Four viewings of Mitch McCabe’s documentary, Youth Knows No Pain, have me scratching my head. I am puzzled over exactly what McCabe was attempting to say with this film. Is Youth Knows No Pain a love letter to McCabe’s deceased plastic surgeon father or an obsession with mortality? Is this is a commentary on the consumerism and increasing narcissism of Western society? How about a meditation on how youth obsessed Americans are? An exploration of how ageism and sexism conflate to render women of a certain age invisible? Youth Knows No Pain is all of these things and none of these things. The film is rather unfocused, never deeply delving into any of the issues raised.

The film all too often degenerates into navel-gazing. McCabe is obsessed with her own image, and there are no fewer than forty shots of McCabe gazing into mirrors or taking photographs of herself. McCabe admits she spends exorbitant sums on wrinkle creams, despite $70,000 of debt. She also says she would happily let her health insurance lapse so that she can afford salon visits every six weeks.

Youth Knows No Pain’s other subjects are equally shallow. Shelley soothes the pain of an impoverished upbringing with unabashed materialism; dropping $35,000 on plastic surgery in one year, she states that she misses being the target of street harassment. Lyndsay feels its her asymmetrical mouth that holds her back from a career in broadcasting. Dr. Zein Obagi injected his fifteen year old daughter with Botox. Erica, another daughter of a plastic surgeon, aspires to appear in Playboy. Erica’s father, Frank, regularly criticized his daughter’s appearance during her teen years, going so far as to ask her if her breasts were symmetrical. And I wanted to slap the taste out of Gary’s mouth when he suggests Hillary Clinton is long overdue for plastic surgery because, according to him, no one wants to see a woman looking “old and haggy.”

All of the subjects state that plastic surgery makes people feel good and that alone is a sufficient justification for it. The subjects equate aging with being ugly and alone, an assumption McCabe seems to share as she never challenges it. Many of the subjects insensitively insult McCabe’s appearance, but McCabe doesn’t have the salt to call any of them on it. She seems not the least bit interested in the “grow old gracefully” position, either. Two interviewees expressed outright disdain for cosmetic procedures, decrying society’s fear of the aged, but neither woman is identified by name and neither gets more than two minutes of screen time.

The film’s title is belied by an interview early in the film. One subject bursts into tears upon seeing a picture of himself at age twenty-four, stating that he was thinking of all the things he put himself through at that age. He also remains unidentified and is never seen again. Freak Out Over Aging would have been a much better title for this movie, which premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EST/PST on HBO.

Written by: Ebony Edwards-Ellis, August 31st 2009

Just happened upon this movie. i have never posted a comment anywhere. Can't anyone see that she, in her mind, is secure in what she is. Remember she said she received her father's attention when she got better, and better grades. It was clear and sad that the woman portrayed were looking for something to make them feel good about themselves. They had no purpose other than their appearance. I didn't think any looked young for their age. I thought the woman who did nothing and husband left her and had a stroke looked better than some of them. Everyone knows if your fake, keep it real, you may get more respect and be looked upon as confident. I'm too busy to go on

I pretty much agree with your review, but would like to add something. While I do believe that McCabe failed to decisively focus on one point in her film, she shows the repercussions of having a plastic surgeon as a parent. I am a daughter of a FEMALE plastic and cosmetic surgeon. My mother, while making women "prettier" and "younger", subsequently made me ridiculously conscious of my body image at an early age. I have never had plastic surgery, never intend to have plastic surgery, and would not consider myself a disgrace to the feminist movement by wanting to pose for playboy. I am quite the opposite. But I would be lying if I didn't say that each day I look at my body and wonder "what is wrong with me." It's inevitable when your parent's job is to make people essentially flawless. In addition, my mother is essentially an anomaly and a contradiction. McCabe did not look at female plastic surgeons - maybe because there aren't as many or maybe because they would skew the tone of her film. My mother succeeded in a business mostly dominated by men and is in many ways a feminist and yet encourages supericiality (which I view as not feminist at all) by "fixing" her patients. She dually debunks the IDEA behind plastic surgery (by being an intelligent women who relies on her brain not her appearance) and supports it (by making changing peoples' appearance versus looking at them as human beings). What am I saying about plastic surgery and McCabe's film? Maybe I'm just as unfocused as her point in her film. But what I do know is that McCabe touches on the insecurities of children of plastic surgeons (and perhaps I wish she focused on that more) and the contradictions within plastic surgeons themselves (her father became a plastic surgeon after seeing atrocities in Vietnam - while superficial, it comes from a place of wanting to help devastated people. Unfortunately the plastic surgery industry is mostly about fixing peoples' insecurities).

I thought McCabe's priorities were a little out of order. She seemed overly concerned with aging and the appearance of wrinkles on her face, however, it was clear from the film that she was a smoker. Perhaps the money she spent on facial creams and botox should have gone towards some nicotine patches.

I enjoyed the film, but agree that whatever point it was originally trying to make ended up lost along the way. I didn’t think it was a “love letter to her father,” but I did see that she was trying to come to terms with her father’s sudden death and her unanswered questions about her father’s chosen profession as his impressionable daughter. In the end we don’t know if she gets her answer, but then we didn’t really know what the question was in the first place. Some of the subjects did make me laugh, cringe, or howl at the tv screen and I was never sure if these people were in on the joke when they seemed like they were the butt of it. I did think that Shelly was happier, but it seems like a happiness that fades until the next round of surgery. Judging from the old photos of her where Shelly was overweight and had gastric bypass surgery, I think her surgeries and continuous desire to “improve” herself she will cause her to have body issues for the rest of her life, unfortunately. I was disappointed that McCabe gave in and had the Botox done herself, but then thinking back on the film I’m not sure why I’m disappointed, other than my own personal views, since McCabe never really seemed to be fully against it or not.

I think the lady doth protest too much. Her implied reticence toward having anything done herself seemed transparent, and I couldn't see any point to this film whatsoever. She took no stand, stated no firm position - in fact she wavered back and forth between positions for most of the film. That's fine, on the journey to making a decision - but if your decision is just to "give-in" then what is the point? I had hoped this would be an exploration of the anti-aging industry and our obsession with youth, but instead, as the reviewer noted, it was a lot of navel-gazing and passive observance of others. She never even challenged any of them on their beliefs, or gave enough background on anyone to make us understand why they behaved the way they did. Not that any character was compelling enough for me to care...

I watched [Louis Theroux: Under the Knife](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Theroux:_Under_The_Knife" rel="nofollow) not too long ago and while I didn't hate it (I think Theroux is rather amusing), I wondered what we were supposed to think. The best documentaries leave you with unanswered questions or make you feel uncomfortable in the grey area that exists in so many controversial stories. But does anyone really go into a documentary about plastic surgery without any opinion? And what is there really to be said by now? I don't know... I haven't seen this one, and I don't want to hate, but it seems pretty tough to make plastic surgery new and interesting. And for the record, I'd be happy to look "old and haggy" like Hillary someday (though she's neither in my opinion). Bring it!!!

I just saw the film tonight and your review sums up exactly what I was thinking. This film is as shallow as many of its subjects. It kept me entertained, insofar as I didn't become bored with it but I found it frustrating to watch. I wanted McCabe to pick an issue and explore it in depth. I also found it incredible that she kept saying that Shelly seemed happier after undergoing her various procedures.

I'd love for you to elaborate, Anon.

I thought the movie was stupid.