While the fashion and modeling scenes have served as targets for humor in films like “Pret-a-Porter” and “Zoolander,” NYU-trained David Sigal’s first feature “The Look” has less interest in ridiculing the easily satirized world than in using it as a vibrant canvas for an ensemble teen comedy. Quietly pushing its message about kids pursuing their dreams and finding something within themselves that goes deeper than physical beauty, the high-definition video feature serves up fairly stereotypical characters and situations, but does so with enough flashiness and fun to find an audience on youth-oriented cable webs like MTV.
Action revolves around a contest that draws hundreds of young runway hopefuls to New York to vie for a $50,000 modeling contract. Central quartet among them is India (Carrie Southworth), a rich girl with acceptance issues; Charlie (Neal Dodson), who signed up for babe access; his buddy Tom (Andersen Gabrych), wrestling with his sexuality and viewing the competition more than anything as a ticket to New York City; and seemingly dim Southern Barbie doll Pammy (Callie De Fabry), who becomes the object of Charlie’s affections.
Orbiting this group is an imperious trio of bitchy catwalk climbers led by bed-hopping Fred (Angie Hsu); and a gay-boy posse that includes Jesse (Ned Stresen-Reuter), who makes it his mission to give Tom’s sexual exploration some direction.
Keeping the finalists prisoners with strict curfews in a Gotham hotel, Jean Mandel’s screenplay sets up a college dorm-type microcosm that keeps adults on the margins and lets the kids bounce off each other and learn their lessons individually about friendship, self-worth, sexuality, independence and being true to themselves. While cokehead competition manager Edy LaFontaine (Carol Alt) is morally indifferent to the way the wannabe models are absorbed into or spat out by the system, group chaperone Stephanie (Theresa Hill) balances the picture with a more nurturing attitude, as does modeling coach and mother-hen Mary-Mary (Gotham drag diva Hedda Lettuce).
Punctuating the action with talking-head interviews with the contestants, Sigal takes some time to settle on the right tone and centralize the core characters. But while the scripting is a little too by-the-numbers to hook adults, young audiences should respond to the film’s affection and empathy for its characters, and to the cute, affable cast. Modeling backdrop provides the modest production with plenty of glamour and color.