Eleven Minutes, which opens today in limited release, is a documentary by Michael Selditch and Rob Tate, who met Jay McCarroll when they made the Bravo special Project Jay. The two filmmakers follow Jay's creative process as he takes his designs from sketches to his first show during New York Fashion Week. Jay is in almost every frame of the film, and while some critics find his flamboyant personality "insufferable," others feel the directors still didn't get to the heart of what makes the designer tick. Several critics predict the film will bore Project Runway fans who are not truly devoted to learning about the minutiae of the fashion industry. (Apparently the months of preparation that go into the "eleven minutes" a designer gets to show his collection on the runway aren't quite as exciting as stitching together a red carpet look from corn husks and Twizzlers in under 24 hours!) Below, the critics weigh in on whether Eleven Minutes can, as Tim would say, "make it work."
For a while Jay McCarroll's flamboyant self-involvement is fairly insufferable. (As I heard him wonder, in the opening sequence, if he's incapable of being loved, I wondered how much, if at all, the documentarians loved him.) Before long, though, his courage and exemplary toughness shine through. Maybe he was having nervous breakdowns off-camera, but the man on screen grows into the role of hero as the preshow frenzy reaches fever pitch. Project Runway isn't the only thing that got him here, he tells an interviewer who keeps strumming the same frayed string: "It's my passion and my humor and my talent." By the end you're rooting for his talent to prevail.
Funny, fragile, acerbic and irreverent, McCarroll is acutely aware of his outsider status and prone to trip over his own insecurities. Post-Runway, he rejected both the prize money and a deal with Banana Republic, apparently from lack of confidence. The tension of his relationship to the fashion world - and specifically how he earned his place in it - permeates Eleven Minutes, a movie whose title refers to the length of a runway show but also suggests a truncated allotment of Warhol's 15 minutes of fame.
Neither the clothes nor the quotidian drama of their making are especially interesting. The true subject of Eleven Minutes, an inadvertently poignant cautionary tale, is the toll reality TV stardom can take on the psyche and ego.
The amount of work that goes into making those 11 minutes run smoothly is truly mind-boggling. Directors Michael Selditch and Rob Tate do a good job of hanging back and letting the inherent drama of the loony-toon world of fashion unfold. It's not always pretty, and more often than not it's completely unglamorous. But compelling it is, even when it is downright depressing (watching a sales meeting with reps from Urban Outfitters should be enough to dissuade plenty of wannabe designers).
What truly elevates it all is how the directors (deliberately appearing on-screen at times) subtly address our perceptions of filmed "reality," from their even-handed vérité here to the more grossly manufactured confines of reality TV, a medium McCarroll is quick to call "vulgar." Like Soderbergh's two-part Che-yes, I'm making this comparison-Eleven Minutes is less about its subject and more about formalist processes (both McCarroll and the filmmakers'), and shouldn't exist as a stand-alone without viewers having experienced its other half, Project Runway.
Considering that McCarroll is in pretty much every frame of the movie, though, we never really get to know what moves and drives him as a person. We see the ugly parts of his personality but they never make him human; they feel more like quirks... In the very beginning, he laments feeling lonely when he sees other people in love, and he wonders whether he'll ever be deserving of such love himself - but Selditch and Tate never come back to that. At one point McCarroll describes himself as "the poster boy for angry insecurity," something else they should have explored.
If you're a fashion insider, you may find the entire film fascinating. If you're not, you may find it way too long, even at 103 minutes. For general audiences, it could use a bit of, ahem, tailoring - taking in here and there. It can be argued that the unrelenting immersion in McCarroll's fits of panic and pique mirrors the intensity of preparing for a major fashion show for an entire year. It can also be argued that, at the end of the day, it's a movie and one that would have been even more effective with a tighter edit.
While it's intriguing to learn about all the players involved in creating a fashion line, there's too much minutiae to keep the attention of those who are not obsessed with design trends. What works in snippets on a reality show would seem to work blown out to a full-length documentary. Only it doesn't. Perhaps this is partly because the film lacks the suspense of the show's competition. Additionally, the documentary's scope feels hampered by too tight a focus... What is meant to be a no-holds-barred exploration of the creative process often comes across more like the tiresome Confessions of a Reality TV Darling.
Eleven Minutes, directed by Michael Selditch and Rob Tate, might be described as a low-rent answer to Douglas Keeve's documentary about Isaac Mizrahi, Unzipped (1995), a movie that also revealed the fundamental silliness of fashion, though it had some glamour attached. Here Mr. McCarroll, a self-deprecating show-off with a whiny voice, and his unpaid assistants scuffle over eight months to come up with the cheap materials and outsourced labor to turn his sketches into items that in the end nobody buys. Famemongers are advised to heed the film's cautionary message: Fleeting celebrity on reality television comes with no guarantee of an afterlife.
"Eleven Minutes" opens today in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Francisco.