There’s a fine line between exposition and exploitation, despite their similarities in phonics. Proper exposition puts forth an idea or theory and comprehensively explores the issue at hand, while exploitation is the act of unfairly benefiting from someone’s work, typically when said work is abusive and unseemly.
Excess Flesh is a film that starts as exposition, calling out the disgusting nature of society’s unfair physical standards and the unfortunate state of body-shaming thoughts, yet it confusingly turns into an exploitative food-porn that asks the world of Bethany Orr. What could have been a weighty assessment of the drug-fueled model culture is nothing but a raving slampiece about centerfold glamification and the snobs who define what beauty is – like a gross-out tabloid bit.
Bethany Orr plays Jill, a “flabby” Jane Doe who lives with her ultra-bitchy best friend Jennifer. Being a model, Jennifer spends most of her time harassing Jill about her frumpy physical makeup (a DISGUSTING 135 pounds) while parading around the house eating frozen burritos stuffed with salty corn chips. This sends Jill into an abusive frenzy of binge eating, purging, and other gross calorie-skirting shortcuts, but eventually her sanity begins to slip outside of her own personal torture. After chasing away a cute guy and chaining Jennifer to the wall, Jill’s obsessive problem spirals out of control, with the life of her “friend” hanging in the balance. If Jennifer can’t find a way to escape, it won’t be that extra bite of chocolate cake that does her in.
The problem with Excess Flesh isn’t that it’s hateful or without cinematic intrigue, it’s just that Sigrid Gilmer and Patrick Kennelly have noting new to say about the nasty pressures that come from paper-thin celebrities. The problem itself is real and horrifying, as ridiculous expectations lead to eating disorders, bullying, and serious cases of self-confidence issues, but Jill’s glutenous night binges don’t add anything of value to the whole “physical image” conversation.
It all starts emphatically enough, with Jennifer and Jill fantasizing about their favorite fat-loaded foods, but once the tone shifts to a messy torture porn, confusion and complacency take over. This is a film that introduces a socially relevant topic, but besides the obvious comparison of “gorgeous” versus “average,” the conversation quickly turns into a belligerent hammering of the same themes over and over again – with an ending that goes for shocks over enlightenment.
That’s not to say Kennelly and Gilmer don’t dream up some pretty funky satire, especially when showing Jennifer and her psychotic model friends in their moments of weakness. Food is repeatedly sexualized throughout the film, whether it’s hearing a woman’s excited moaning spliced in every time a knife cuts through a vegetable, or Jill’s O-face after purging her system, but the funniest inclusion of culinary jabs comes in the form of crushed-up snacks being served as fancy party favors.
Instead of walking around a swanky party with trays of cocaine, people offer lines of what appear to be crushed Doritos and other sinful snack foods for models to sample in tiny doses. All the taste without any of the calories! Most of these scenes are also shown in slow motion, with jacked up volume levels so we can hear every revolting squish as Jill mashes microwavable macaroni and cheese between her teeth – only to spit her mouthful out before swallowing. Excess Flesh does address the horrors of bulimia and other disorders, and despite some of these scenes being comically satirical, these are the moments that speak the loudest.
One has to commend the efforts of Bethany Orr and Mary Loveless, because even though there’s not much being said throughout their perpetual food-fight, the actresses are always giving it 110%. A lot is asked for, from nudity to unsettling binges on tremendous amounts of food, but their intensity levels are always running high. Loveless is bound for most of the sequences, so Orr has the greater task, and it’s one that she meets with a stunted psychosis brought on by neglect and hurtful physical assessments. Orr might go a little overboard at times for some (including myself), but there’s an endearing quality about her refusal to accept happiness when it’s thrust in her face. The man of her dreams admits his love directly to her, yet because she can’t stop thinking about her “unfit” body, embarrassment refuses to let her embrace what she has (deserves, even).
Excess Flesh has a story to tell, but it’s convoluted and far too slight. If you revisit The ABCs Of Death and watch “X is for XXL,” you’ll see almost the same exact idea trimmed down into a five minute short that packs a whopping final blow. Kennelly and Gilmer think outside of the box a ton, incorporating a nightmarish cooking show sequence and creepy thematic links, but most theories of value are buried under a pile of cake crumbs and gummy bears. There are many things that lead to the idea of Excess Flesh – abuse, pressure, expectations, undignified attitudes, celebrity culture – but none of them make a powerful enough appearance that’s worth such a trippy quarrel between roommates.
Excess Flesh starts out by asking the right questions about body shaming, but it quickly crumbles like a stale, tasteless fruitcake that's meant only for decoration.