The history of the boob job is turned inside-out in this wry, fast ‘n’ loose pseudo-docudrama that succeeds dramatically even though it isn’t quite the dippy satire to which it so obviously aspires. Then again, it’s difficult to make a true comic romp of a tale in which thousands of augmented women wound up diseased and/or disfigured. “Breast Men” is as dark as it gets.
Like a “Boogie Nights” of the breast enhancement universe (“Boogie Knives”?), “Breast Men” follows the trail, and ultimate tragedy, of the silicone breast implant, using dramatizations and composites galore to illustrate and satirize the dawn of the are-they-real-or-are-they-medical-science? era.
It all works better than it has any right to, primarily due to the work of David Schwimmer and Chris Cooper in rendering John Stockwell’s broad (no pun intended) script. Schwimmer, in fact, is the real surprise.
Film opens in 1962 in Houston, where Kevin Saunders (Schwimmer) is a struggling medical resident with idealistic dreams of making a difference in his field. Feeling unchallenged, he sees what Dr. Michael De-Bakey is doing in creating the artificial heart. He notes how women stuff their bras to appear bigger than they really are and wonders if there might be a market for a device that would enlarge from within.
Saunders shares his idea with fellow cosmetic pro Dr. William Larson (Cooper) and they jointly develop a prosthetic breast out of silicone gel developed by Dow-Corning. When asking women on the street if they’d like larger breasts fails to do the trick in landing volunteers, Saunders takes out an ad in the local paper. The office is immediately flooded.
And so it begins. The pair determine that with a simple flick of the blade they can change women’s lives. Both doctors become impossibly rich and successful as well as blinded by delusions of grandeur.
Then comes the inevitable fall. As in “Boogie Nights,” it involves excess drugs and booze and ego. And it provides an opportunity for Schwimmer to flex his acting muscles as never before. He goes from a gentle Ross Geller clone to a self-absorbed, overstimulated lunatic who snorts cocaine off the breasts he recently augmented. It’s a gutsy stretch for Schwimmer that he makes with panache.
Cooper, too, is terrif here, illustrating how his character’s success turns him edgy and paranoid. His chemistry with Schwimmer is exactly what it should be — flamboyant without going too far over the top.
Things kind of peter out in “Breast Men” as the high life enjoyed by our protagonists begins to turn ugly, coinciding with the piling up of lawsuits against Dow-Corning. Irony is heaped upon irony, but under Lawrence O’Neil’s otherwise tight direction the whole enter-prise starts to strain for laughs that simply aren’t there.
Indeed, “Breast Men” lacks the campy zest of a previous HBO Pictures project, “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom,” and it doesn’t quite boast the driving suspense of a “Barbarians at the Gate.” But it’s still an entertaining little treasure in its own right.
Besides Schwimmer and Cooper, the primary strength of “Breast Men” is the dichotomy between the lame medical opportunists who seized on this cosmetic void and the slack-jawed opposition of a medical establishment convinced that women would never stoop to putting something so icky and unproven in their bodies.
The film ends a bit too comfortably, with our antiheroes getting pretty much what they deserve. But as comedic cautionary tales go, “Breast Men” is, certainly, never flat.
Tech credits are top notch.