Beauty Is Embarrassing (Docurama Films, NR)

beautyisembarrassing 75Wayne White is about as consistently funny in his everyday speech as your more reliable stand-up comedians, and as such, this is the funniest movie to have been released in 2012.


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You may not know Wayne White’s name, but you probably know his work. Did you grow up watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse? White helped design the sets. Remember that old Smashing Pumpkins music video for “Tonight Tonight,” that was an homage to Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon? That was White’s doing. He’s also released a book of his art (entitled Maybe Now I’ll Get the Respect I So Richly Deserve), he does one-man stage shows, he’s worked on countless other TV shows and videos, he paints, he sculpts, he does puppets, he plays the banjo. He comes off like a cross between the piano-playing Zach Galifianakis of  his old stand-up act and your favorite uncle. He’s an excellent subject for a documentary.

And hey, we have one! Director Neil Berkeley’s film Beauty Is Embarrassing has shown a handful of times here in St. Louis—it was my second-favorite film from 2012’s St. Louis International Film Festival and then ran three more times at the Webster Film Series in the first weeks of the new year—and it has had a limited release elsewhere in the country, but now it’s available on DVD from Docurama Films. Mind you, it also is (and has been) available through OnDemand and iTunes and stuff like that, but the DVD release is enough to restore your faith in physical media, if it ever went away (it never did for me).

You see, Beauty is Embarrassing maybe isn’t quite what it sounds like. You’d think that the film would focus on White’s experience with Pee-Wee, as that’s his biggest credit, and while Paul Reubens and Gary Panter and the like are interviewed here, Beauty isn’t really about that. Berkeley smartly realized somewhere along the line how charismatic and what fun a personality White is—watching the film, you really just want to hang out with him—and so that’s pretty much what the film does: It hangs out with Wayne. White is about as consistently funny in his everyday speech as your more reliable stand-up comedians, and as such, Beauty Is Embarrassing is the funniest movie to have been released in 2012.

And that’s where the DVD shines as well—it understands White’s likeability as much as the movie itself does. The special features are copious and fun as hell. The two most noteworthy are a feature-length commentary with Berkeley and White, which mostly consists of White telling funny anecdotes from his life (this after a somewhat awkward first 15 minutes or so), and also in the special features menu is the entirety of White’s one-man show, as performed at the Largo in Los Angeles and running a little over half an hour. Elsewhere we have smaller featurettes, like how White goes about his famous “word paintings” (in which he paints a funny phrase over an existing painting that he picked up at a thrift store—that’s where the phrase “Beauty is embarrassing” came from; it was a phrase on one of his word paintings, a reproduction of which is included in postcard form in the packaging of the DVD), how he prepared for the Largo show, etc. All of these are as funny and as worth watching as the main feature itself.

So yes, not only should you see Beauty Is Embarrassing, whether you know who Wayne White is or not, you should make a point of tracking down the DVD and not just downloading the damned thing. The movie will leave you wanting more—and there is much more to be found when you have the disc proper. | Pete Timmermann

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