'Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story': Film Review

Illuminating portrait of an artist whose work you've undoubtedly seen.

Tiffany Bartok's documentary recounts the life and career of the famed makeup artist.

Few people discover their passion and cultivate it so assiduously as the subject of Tiffany Bartok's documentary. From a very young age, Kevyn Aucoin realized he had a passion for making women look beautiful, which is not something that goes over very well in the Deep South in which he was born and raised. Nonetheless, he became a legendary makeup artist, reaching the peak of his profession before dying at the tragically young age of 40 in 2002. Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story recounts his life and career in a manner that should prove fascinating even to those who couldn't care less about the topic.

Aucoin grew up in Louisiana and first began practicing his craft on his younger sister. He was obsessed with divas — particularly Barbra Streisand, to whom his childhood bedroom was a virtual shrine — and, not surprisingly, was frequently bullied at school as a result.

Inspired by Way Bandy's book Designing Your Face, Aucoin eventually made his way to New York City, where he managed through sheer tenacity to land a job at Vogue. He quickly established himself as a dominant force in the beauty industry, using his facial contouring techniques on such supermodels of the era as Carol Alt, Paulina Porizkova, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell. That these women were deeply appreciative of his talents is amply evident in their effusive testimonials in the documentary.

The supermodel era eventually waned, with celebrities frequently replacing them on magazine covers. Aucoin thus found himself working with such figures as Brooke Shields, who he made up to look like a man for one photo shoot; Liza Minnelli, who became a devoted companion; Cher, who reveals a genuine fondness for him in her interviews; Isabella Rossellini, Oprah Winfrey and even his idol, Streisand. Singer Tori Amos comments on the symbiosis between Aucoin and his clients: "There are two sides to this," she points out. "Some of us were addicted to him making us beautiful, and he was addicted to making us beautiful." Aucoin's celebrity hit such a point that he even played himself in a cameo on Sex and the City.

Thanks to the extensive candid footage and copious interviews with family members, colleagues and lovers, the film delivers a highly personal, warts-and-all portrait of its subject. Aucoin's career eventually suffered, both because of shifting trends and myriad health issues, including a long-undiagnosed pituitary tumor that resulted in an addiction to painkillers.

Aucoin was a compelling, charismatic and complex figure who's brought to such life in the documentary that his premature death feels as traumatic for the viewer as for those who knew him. In such moments as when he gleefully introduces himself to a woman perusing his recently published book at a store, you can easily see the excited boy who grew up to fulfill his biggest dreams.

Production companies: Matador Content, Vinyl Foote Productions
Distributor: The Orchard
Director: Tiffany Bartok 
Producers: Jayce Bartok, Bronwyn Cosgrave, Troy Surratt
Executive producers: Todd Lubin, Jay Peterson, Jack Turner
Director of photography: Andres Karu
Editor: Ezra Paek
Composers: Scott Doherty, Will Golden

102 minutes