'Take My Nose … Please!': Film Review

Spirited but skin-deep.

Longtime beauty-magazine journalist Joan Kron makes her directing debut at age 89 with a documentary about cosmetic surgery.

As a contributing editor at Allure, Joan Kron created the "plastic surgery beat," and her articles garnered awards from organizations representing surgeons and dermatologists. Her tyro outing as a filmmaker will likely win these medical professionals' approval as well. Like a seemingly rounded magazine feature, Take My Nose … Please! is lively, sprinkled with factoids and raises a few provocative questions, but mainly it's designed to reassure women that cosmetic surgery is the way to go, so go for it.

Subtitled Women, Comedy and Plastic Surgery, the film traces a lineage of funny women, from Fanny Brice to Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Roseanne Barr and Kathy Griffin, who have been forthcoming about the work they've had done. The director follows two exceptionally likable comedians, including Jackie Hoffman — who, as Joan Crawford's housekeeper, was one of the best things about Feud — as they meet with doctors and contemplate whether to undergo cosmetic procedures.

Kron seeks to destigmatize not just cosmetic surgery but vanity, and aims to cut through the hypocrisy and lies surrounding the booming industry. Toward that end, her angle on the subject is engaging and persuasive, pointing out the difference between the openness of comic performers — who often turn their beautification experiences into stand-up material — and the hush-hush secrecy and denials of serious actors. What this says about measures of beauty, and a certain WASP standard, is acknowledged glancingly. Over the suggestions of people in the biz who presumably know what makes someone hirable, comedian Giulia Rozzi shuns the scalpel because it's important to her that she looks like her Italian-American parents.

But while the film includes voices that question the whole enterprise, it also gives face time to physicians, sociologists and psychologists who emphasize the importance of "looking your best as a means of communication." God forbid we listen to anyone who isn't looking their best.

Kron listens intently to Hoffman and Emily Askin, an improv performer bemoaning her "unfortunate angles" and "Jewish nose." For her part, Hoffman doesn't want to "de-Jewify completely." Askin's mother and fiancé see no need for improvement, let alone urgency; neither does Hoffman's husband. Putting herself down before anyone else can, Hoffman is exceptionally hard on herself. (Diller, speaking from firsthand knowledge, is seen discussing the "comic persona as a defense.") But beneath the self-deprecating swagger, Kron and DP Damon Bundschuh capture Hoffman sorting out a lifetime's complex and her relationship to what a friend calls "the magazine definition of attractive." Studying a surgeon's illustration of "after" possibilities for her, she wonders aloud, "The nose is pretty, but does it make me pretty?"

Via montages-through-the-ages of Rivers, who's heard briefly in an audio interview for the film, and Michael Jackson, Kron acknowledges nip-and-tuck addiction. She devotes a few unsatisfying minutes to the disastrous results of 1960s comedian Totie Fields' plastic surgery, treating her medical emergency as a sad anomaly, with no further exploration of procedure-related deaths or complications. In this encouraging look at cosmetic surgery, not a syllable about costs is uttered.

The most fascinating element of the doc, and its most convincing empowerment argument, is a segment on Madame Noël, a feminist pioneer in plastic surgery in early-20th century France. Her "petite opération" was designed to help working-class women, often fired at the first signs of aging, to keep their jobs. Perhaps what Take My Nose makes most clear is that we haven't progressed very far from those benighted days.

Excerpting insta-classic sketches from Inside Amy Schumer — "Last F***able Day" and the 12 Angry Men spoof — Kron calls out Hollywood on its double standard. Yet like many of her subjects, she sees that there's no fighting it; as standup comedian Julie Halston puts it, "Beauty's still the thing that people want most from women." 

Distributor: Parvenu Ventures
Production company: Parvenu Ventures
With: Jackie Hoffman, Emily Askin, Lisa Lampanelli, Judy Gold, Julie Halston, Giulia Rozzi
Director: Joan Kron
Producers: Joan Kron, Brian David Cange, W. Wilder Knight II
Executive producers: Bill Scheft, Adrianne Tolsch
Director of photography: Damon Bundschuh
Editor: Nancy Novack
Composer: David Cieri

No rating, 99 minutes