Stink! (Net Return Entertainment/Area23a, NR)

Its major flaw: it’s too many things.


Stink! has a lot of individual parts that would make great seeds for other documentaries, but having them all together results in a film that seems unfocused and insubstantial, despite the fact that it has a rather strong point of view. Basically, the film is about harmful chemicals in everyday consumer products. Filmmaker Jon Whelan describes the film you are about to see as “a love story, a mystery, a crime drama, and a wake-up call” in the opening narration, and in that narration he both summarizes the film and also points out its major flaw: it’s too many things.

Whelan was inspired to make the film when a couple pairs of pajamas he got as a Christmas present for his daughters had an offensive synthetic-chemical smell. Upon trying to get a list of ingredients and products used in the manufacture and packaging of said pajamas, Whelan was repeatedly stonewalled by the company who sold them. A little while before this, his wife died of breast cancer, something they could never find a direct cause for. On that front, the story functions as a widower’s journey to confront the dangers that face his two children and that possibly took the life of his late spouse. There are also a variety of other documentary modes put into effect, not always in a complimentary way. What’s more is the film passes over several ideas, stories, and themes that could be rich and intriguing if given the proper time and care, but these things are only fleeting, resulting in an overload of information and not enough story.

Since we get a lot of footage of Whelan himself and his two daughters, as well as old home movie footage of him and his wife, the core of the film can be said to be a family drama. Jon Whelan makes himself the protagonist by confronting local legislatures and eventually more powerful congressmen on their policy regarding harmful chemicals, all in attempt to be a proactive and responsible parent. If whittled down some, this premise could offer us an authored, emotional journey through a political topic, an approach often seen with filmmakers like Michael Moore. But there are too many conventional, almost television-like documentary techniques being employed to make the aforementioned premise seem legitimate. Whelan’s style of narration sounds heavily scripted and almost cartoonish in how announcer-ish it sounds, and the frequent use of motion graphics and animated displays of data make it seem like you’re watching an episode of Mythbusters or something, not an inspired, politically-fueled documentary.

Oftentimes the pursuits of Whelan and the informational sequences will be interrupted to shed light on the story of someone affected by toxic chemicals in consumer products, or specific politicians acting hypocritically, or certain products being harmful to consumers. None of these little stories gets as much attention as they deserve, as the running time is overcrowded by the inclusion of all of them and not just one or two. None of this is to say that the topic isn’t an engaging one. Environmental and health concerns are a welcome documentary subject in my book, and bits and pieces of this film will certainly leave me thinking. If only it left me with a more. | Nic Champion

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