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Friday, November 27, 2015

'Stink!' Documentary on Product Fragrances Shows Something Rotten in the States of America

Stink! Movie Poster
Dot.com millionaire/director/producer/narrator Jon Whelan performs a genuine public service regarding his documentary "Stink!," which Net Return Entertainment is opening in New York on November 27 2015 and in Los Angeles on December 4 2015. This film shines a spotlight on deceitful (and potentially fatal) practices regarding using fragrances in clothing and household products. Whelan does his homework, presents his talking heads well, and is a charming host. He further confirms the belief of parents of teen boys everywhere that Axe body spray is toxic.

The following YouTube clip of the "Stink!" trailer nicely conveys every attribute discussed above.


The aforementioned homework begins with discovering that companies lack any legal duty to disclose the chemicals that produce the smells that many of us like in our products. The applicable laws relate both to the regulatory classifications of the chemicals and the legal conclusion that the formulations of those ingredients are proprietary trade secrets that companies can keep sealed in their vaults.

The stonewalling goes to the extent of children's clothing manufacturer Justice essentially daring Whelan to pay for an independent chemical analysis of a pair of their pajamas and Whalen doing exactly that.

The documented harm from exposure to the aforementioned substances include substantially increased risks of obesity and cancer. The science regarding this is presented at an awesomely understandable fifth grade level, complete with animation.

The aforementioned talking heads are the typical private sector and government types who state their cases. One difference is that the elected officials with a highly profitable horse in the race fail to justify not supporting comprehensive labeling laws that allow consumers to make informed decisions regarding risks associated with using specific products. A personal example is continuing to use the higher-end Irish Spring body wash with "mint extract," which does not seem to include that substance but does have "fragrance," despite "Stink!" providing reason to believe that doing so might have ill effects.

The valid reason that Whelan presents for our elected officials advocating a "place on the market first, (perhaps) apologize later" industry standard is the effective lobbying by "big chemical." His best "gotcha" moment regarding this is confronting such a lobbyist/New York state office candidate who has a Planned Parenthood endorsement despite that organization opposing practices by the companies who are clients of said candidate.

Whelan addtionally does a good job showing how America is becoming a dumping ground for potentially harmful substances that even less-developed nations will not allow to enter their marketplaces.

The rookie mistake that Whalen commits regarding this initial stab at documentary film making is allowing his very valid personal motive for the project to take it in a frustratingly different direction. Whalen stating early in the film that his wife Heather passing away from breast cancer and leaving him to raise two young girls led to his inadvertently buying one of his daughters the toxic-smelling pajamas that motivated his quest was legitimate. Further, any viewer with even a trace of a soul sympathizes with the Whelan clan.

The problem is that Whelan ad infinitum unduly focuses on his personal circumstances. A man prematurely losing his wife to cancer and being left to raise their young children is a tragic story that is worthy of a film. However, this event has little place in a documentary on companies not divulging the presence of harmful chemicals in our clothes and household products.

One of numerous examples of the excessive intrusion of the personal tragedy is a loooong exposition (complete with several photos from a cross-country family road trip) of the role of that loss in Whelan purchasing the pajamas from the clothing store Justice. Merely stating that he bought the pajamas on the first Christmas after his wife passed away would have conveyed the sentiment. Another unwarranted scene is footage of the daughters sending balloons with messages to their mother on the first anniversary of her death. This one does not pretend to have any connection with the issue of the potentially toxic chemicals.

The primary impetus of this borderline rant is the manner in which Whelan ends "Stink!" The final scene in which his daughter calls Justice customer service to ask about the chemicals on the pajamas is tolerably cute. Predicting that further footage of talking heads or news reports might accompany the closing credits only to see non-narrated footage of the girls jumping on the bed evoked an excited utterance that Whelan certainly does not want them to hear.

Stating that the divergent elements of "Stink!" make it the best of films and the worst of films is a gross overstatement. Stating that Whelan epically fails regarding not making the reporter part of the story is not.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Stink" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.