'Hollywood Beauty Salon': Film Review

Courtesy of FreshFly
Film-as-therapy is mostly of interest to groups hoping to use the same approach.

Glenn Holsten helps those recovering from mental illness tell their own stories.

A Philadelphia recovery organization embraces creativity as a means of therapy in Hollywood Beauty Salon, Glenn Holsten's community-centric documentary. Less intriguing for outsiders than OC87, an earlier project in which Holsten helped an OCD-afflicted man show viewers what life is like inside his mind, this film feels more of a piece with the fashion shows and musical efforts it chronicles: an art-therapy product valuable mostly to those who made it. Other mental-health organizations, though, may find it useful as a case study in helping patients tell their own stories.

The salon mentioned in the title, where members of a Germantown, Philadelphia recovery community style each others' hair and share stories, is only a small part of the film's focus: Its "Recovery Hair and Fashion Show," in which community members will walk a catwalk and celebrate themselves, serves as a very thin structural framework upon which the film tacks disparate chapters.

We hear many narratives of wrenching events that resulted from or exacerbated mental illness: Murder, suicide, abuse and loss shadow these men and women, and as each chooses how to share their story here, some craft mini-dramas of catharsis. One woman nicknamed "Butterfly" embraces ways of literalizing that moniker, dressing up in colorful wings and flying with the aid of greenscreen and harness; another casts a girl to play a younger version of herself, then goes onscreen to offer the child love and encouragement. The sentimentality inherent in these efforts does little for the film's ability to speak to a broad audience, but within the supportive group that collaborated with Holsten to make this film, uninhibited self-expression is seemingly its own reward.

Distributor: Paladin
Production company: FreshFly
Director: Glenn Holsten
Producers: Phil Bradshaw, Chayne Gregg, Glenn Holsten, Sean Maher
Executive producer: Bud Clayman
Director of photography: Daniel Traub
Editor: Ann Tegnell
Composer: Michael Aharon

Not rated, 87 minutes