I love me some Netflix streaming. But at times, that gargantuan library of B-movies can be a bit taxing to peruse on a lazy, boring Thursday night. So upon the recommendation of a Facebook acquaintance, my wife and I decided on a documentary called Beauty Is Embarrassing. We weren’t disappointed.

For those not already in the know, this is a documentary about Wayne White, and artist, art director, designer, puppeteer etc. If you’re 30ish/40ish, there’s a good chance you’ve seen White’s work without even knowing it. If you’ve ever watched Pee Wee’s Playhouse or seen a Peter Gabriel or Smashing Pumpkins video, chances are you’ve seen White’s work and it will be automatically familiar.

This is a genuinely heart warming feel-good kind of documentary that makes you glad for funny, if not irreverent, creative geniuses like White. The sheer inventiveness is worth the price of admission.

The ending, however, struck me as a little one-dimensional. Its big idea was in lock step with what every post Free to Be You and Me kindergarten teacher has been saying since time began: you can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. In White’s words:

“Follow your heart, and your pleasure in art. Don’t do what you think is going to be making you money, or what you’re parents want you to do, or what that beautiful girl or guy thinks you should be doing. Do what you love. It’s going to lead to where you want to go. Go out there and make the world more beautiful. I know you can.”

Wayne-white-in-studioI like the sentiment, really I do. I myself work around creatives and love the energy, passion and contagious sense of possibility that they bring to the work environment. To those who have never taken a risk professionally, I’m sure White’s exhortation could be heard as inspiring and maybe even liberating. But I can’t help but wonder what the VH1 Behind The Music version of White from the mid-90s would have thought about his own pep-talk. At the close of the documentary and after hearing White’s tidy wrap up, I felt like either the documentarians, or White himself, had glossed over a darker period in White’s career that was barely touched on. Doubting my own doubts about the film, I thought I’d see what reviewers were saying and found that my slight ambivalence was shared by Nathan Rabin at the AV Club.

“White spent many strange years in the professional wilderness following the demise of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but Beauty Is Embarrassing races right past them in its zeal to get to White’s comeback. Sweet, funny, and sincere, yet more than a little fawning, Beauty Is Embarrassing is an entertaining and exuberant tribute to a true original, but it would have more value if it captured the man in all of his complexity and imperfections, instead of highlighting only his admirable qualities at the expense of everything else”.

It seems to me that the creative burnouts and failures out there–and if you’ve spent some time in LA recently, you know it’s not exactly a small club–might not get the warm-and-fuzzies from White’s positive vibes about the artistic life. Theologically speaking, we are dealing with what is basically a glory story pep-talk for those young enough not to know the difference, or for those, like himself, who are already enjoying success in their respective field. In other words, White’s kind of exuberance and positivity is reserved for winners, those on their way to winning, or those too blind to read the writing on the wall (think of the really bad, but totally committed losers on American Idol for instance).

So I liked the documentary. And I like Wayne White. His work is certainly something to behold. Which is probably why I found those closing words ultimately disappointing. They seem to flow from an inflated anthropology which  heaps more rather than less law and expectation on the struggling, washed up mass of creatives out there, a group that he ironically was once a part of. Then again, maybe one of White’s clever quotes (of which there are many) best encapsulates my slight ambivalence. Perhaps I’m just being Debbie Downer because White’s story is just “so beautiful, it hurts my feelings.”