There are two kinds of people who know Manolo Blahnik: those who own — or long to own — a pair of the shoe designer’s lavish heels, and those who, like the rest of us, are aware of the name only through the gushings of “Sex and the City” protagonist Carrie Bradshaw. The real-life Carrie, writer Candice Bushnell, appears briefly in the documentary “Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards,” along with a clip from the show in which Carrie begs a mugger not to take her Manolo Blahniks.
The film, by fashion journalist and first-time director Michael Roberts, will appeal to the designer’s most ardent devotees, in the barrage of effusive praise the filmmaker has assembled from such fashion-world elites as editors Anna Wintour and André Leon Talley (who compares Blahnik to French poet Charles Baudelaire). These moments would play well at an honorary gala but make for a less than compelling film portrait. Whether fashion can rise to the level of art is a question that largely goes unexamined — save for the enthusiastic film’s implied answer.
Similarly, Roberts’s interviews with Blahnik himself venture only into shallow waters. We learn that the designer grew up in the idyllic Canary Islands and that one of his earliest memories is of making shoes for lizards out of candy wrappers (hence the title). This eccentric detail is otherwise glossed over, save for an animated title sequences that echoes the levity of the “Pink Panther” films. The subject of Blahnik’s sexuality is also, for the most part, untouched. This is a particularly glaring omission, given the many comments on the sexual energy that his designs exude.
With a dramatic vocal delivery that flies across the upper octaves and with an eye-catching wardrobe that walks a fine line between refined and outrageous, Blahnik possesses an inherently captivating cinematic charisma. It could be enough to drive the film, if only he bared more of his soul. After a news clip is shown of violent political upheaval in 1968 Paris, the designer admits, with a nervous laugh, that “I’ve never had any political beliefs.” His friend, jewelry designer Paloma Picasso, recalls when a young Blahnik holed himself up in his shop.
Blahnik’s life appears to be solely driven by his work — a singular sort of obsession that has been captured in such great documentaries as Errol Morris’s “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control” and Ethan Hawke’s quietly fascinating “Seymour: An Introduction.” The central problem here is that Roberts seems too blinded by the halo that he’s placed atop his subject. There are only so many ways to say that someone is great, and they all lose their luster long before the closing credits. This is partly due to the film’s overly conventional style, which feels especially jarring, given how much is said about Blahnik’s unparalleled verve.
Talking-head interviews interspersed with reenactments reminiscent of cheap true-crime shows are the filmic equivalent of a polo shirt and khakis: blandly acceptable but uninspired.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains coarse language and brief partial nudity.