Youth Knows No Pain
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.