'Kevyn Aucoin Beauty & the Beast in Me': Film Review | Outfest 2017

Kevyn Aucoin Beauty & the Beast in Me Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Putti Media
A lively, stirring portrait of a modern makeup king.

Supermodels Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Paulina Porizkova, as well as actresses Andie MacDowell and Gwyneth Paltrow, all pay tribute to their favorite makeup artist in this telling doc.

Kevyn Aucoin may not be a household name, but considering all the celebrities who interacted with him over the course of his brief but spectacular career, he definitely had an impact. The documentary made about him, Kevyn Aucoin Beauty & the Beast in Me, which had its world premiere at this year’s Outfest, is a loving but even-handed portrait of a man who created a distinctive look for many supermodels, singers and actresses. Aucoin was a makeup artist, and if that sounds like a relatively minor field, the stars interviewed on camera would definitely disagree. Many of them believe that they owe their careers to him. The film will be a hit on the gay festival circuit but deserves a life beyond that in theatrical and TV showings.

Director Lori Kaye has probed deeply into Aucoin’s background. He grew up in Louisiana, where the bullying he endured in high school led him to drop out and flee to New York. His family background was complicated. He was adopted, and his adoptive father recognized Kevyn’s sexuality at an early age and seems to have accepted him wholeheartedly; in fact, Isidore Aucoin reports that he dropped out of his church because of the pastor’s bias against homosexuality.

Despite this relatively comfortable family situation, Kevyn was obsessed with finding his birth mother, and he eventually did track her down and met her. But the reunion was not quite what he expected. His birth mother, who is interviewed in the doc, did not share his stepfather’s tolerance. She admits freely that although she regretted having to give her son up when she was only 15, she did not appreciate the man he had become. She accepts the Bible’s denunciations of homosexuality, and at one point, she tells Kevyn, “If I had raised you, you wouldn’t be gay.” The mysteries and contradictions of family are poignantly caught in this film.

Some of these startling moments exist because Kevyn filmed or recorded many of his encounters during his life. A massive film library was discovered after his death in 2002. Kaye and editor P.J. Wolff have done a fine job of interweaving this footage with fresh interviews filmed for the documentary. Some of the stars who were not interviewed — Tina Turner, Cher, Liza Minnelli and the late Whitney Houston — are present in the films that Kevyn made during his lifetime. But Kaye managed to entice a number of Kevyn’s celebrity friends — Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Paulina Porizkova, Andie MacDowell and Gwyneth Paltrow — to share thoughtful memories and testify to the enormous impact that he had on their careers. At one point when he was riding high, Aucoin worked on nine Vogue covers in a row.

Kaye also found a number of Kevyn’s former boyfriends to illuminate his personal life. They testify to his vanity and insecurity, as well as his undeniable talent. A rare illness led him to an over-reliance on prescription drugs, and that led to his untimely death at the age of 40. But the film convinces viewers that in a relatively short life, he went a long way toward defeating some — but not all — of his childhood demons and fulfilling many of his unlikely fantasies.

Director-producer: Lori Kaye
Executive producer: Leslie Anne Thomas
Director of photography: Laurent Basset
Editor: P.J. Wolff
Venue: Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Festival

90 minutes