This movie serves a very specific purpose. I wouldn’t go out to a theatre and see it. I wouldn’t even pay a lot of money to watch it online. In this era where everyone has a streaming subscription, whether it’s Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, a new group of movies and TV shows has been created. They’re your background fodder. The stuff you put on while you’re making dinner, doing laundry or are about to fall asleep. It doesn’t matter if you catch every second, but when you do look up or have have time to engage, you enjoy it. That’s how Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards succeeds. Like a certain kind of flower, if you give it too much attention, it dies.
A mixture of interviews, voice overs, reenactments and archival footage, Manolo aims to uncover the life of the world’s most famous shoe designer. From his early days making shoes for lizards (yes, there is a reason for the films gangly Fall Out Boy-esque title) to his current, almost reclusive life, Manolo paints Blahnik’s story in broad strokes, never worrying itself with the details. Some of it is fascinating. Blahnik spent his early days hanging out with Bianca Jagger and Paloma Picasso. He was on the cover of Vogue with Anjelica Huston in 1974. Blahnick has lead a life most of us would only dream of, and yet he shuns fame. He’s noticeably uncomfortable in front of the camera, which leads to a series of awkward moments and delightful scenes. There are times when Blahnik seems like he’s tired of being coy and lets loose. He excitedly talks about seeing women wearing his shoes. He reminisces about his first shop. It’s like hearing your grandparents talk about the old days. Except, your grandparents don’t intimately know Anna Wintour.
There is the sense that this doc could be so much more. It’s a star studded movie, with everyone from Andre Leon Talley to Rihanna chiming in, but it doesn’t feel like these moments are used to their maximum potential. That’s especially true when it comes to Rihanna, even though they clearly respect each other immensely (Blahnik candidly refers to Rihanna as “the new Grace Kelly”), when they’re finally in the room together it’s a pretty dull moment. The only time Blahnik seems like he’s having any real fun is when John Galliano arrives on set. Blahnik donated the shoes for one of his early shows, so there is clearly a creative history between the two. They talk like old friends, but knowing Galliano is infamous for making antisemitic remarks sours the scene.
The reason this isn’t a can’t miss documentary, like The September Issue, isn’t because of these uncomfortable scenes, it’s because Michael Roberts and his team both gloss over huge swaths of time and then spend the end scrambling. They jump from Blahnik being a party boy to a powerhouse so quickly that this doc could easily be wrapped up in an hour, so they spend the last thirty minutes giving us strange and disorganized facts. We learn that Blahnik has never publicly dated anyone. That he’s almost a recluse who enjoys nothing but working at the shoe factory. All of these tidbits are interesting, but they’re presented almost without context. There’s no real exploration into why he’s reclusive, or if he’s ever fallen in love. Maybe Roberts didn’t want to get that personal, but those are the things that make documentaries interesting. Famous people chatting about how lovely someone is, does not.