Anyone under the impression that runway models are a slightly self-absorbed species won’t be dissuaded by “Picture Me,” a docu co-produced, co-directed, co-edited and photographed by Sara Ziff, and which is all about — yes — Sara Ziff. Still, the onetime high-fashion model isn’t an unattractive star of her own film; she’s likable, smart and shows a capacity for introspection. And despite co-helmer Ole Schell’s failure to ask any questions that might broaden the scope of this on-the-fly docu, which is already in limited release, viewers will get a fairly frank look inside a profession where huge financial success doesn’t require much more, as even Ziff’s mother admits, than being “pretty and on time.”
The genetic miracles who populate “Picture Me” are annoyingly fascinating: The viewer wants to suggest they try coal mining when they whine about the hours, the exhaustion and the $50,000 days when they just don’t feel like working. They aren’t stupid, but they’re exasperatingly young; as a group, they’re cognizant that what they do is ridiculous and exploitative of both the public and themselves (they have body image problems, too), but they’re too cloistered and naive to reflect in any meaningful way on the culture at large, or what they mean within it. Watching “Picture Me” is like watching a particularly expensive bowl of goldfish, swimming around and occasionally complaining about the decor.
Built around talking-head interviews with some very attractive heads — among them Caitriona Balfe, Cameron Russell, Missy Rayder and Lisa Cant — the film also incorporates a smattering of animation as well as “action” footage — upfront or backstage at the runway shows of Paris, Milan and New York. What’s interesting on a purely aesthetic level is the look of the young women, few of whom are what one would call conventionally beautiful, but all of whom have a look. Ziff, who says she was discovered on the street, has wheat-blond hair, skid-mark eyebrows and a Julia Roberts mouth, but she’s also a tabula rasa of cosmetology, absorbing whatever look is imposed upon her. One can imagine walking past her on the street without dropping one’s jaw, but the photographer who originally saw her saw something. It’s something all her colleagues have, too.
What they lack is the maturity that will soon make them obsolete in an industry that chews them up and spits them out; the models here are disarmingly frank about that. But why be loyal to a profession, or a system, that considers you disposable? If Ziff, Schell and Co. had explored that question a bit, they would have had a more meaningful, significant film on their hands.
Tech credits are adequate.