As a documentary, Kate Novack’s The Gospel According to Andre has the sense to focus on a subject that, despite how niche or obscure, can be entertaining. I had never encountered Andre Leon Talley in the wild before, no matter how much the press materials refer to him as a “legendary fashion editor.” Luckily, Talley himself is a larger-than-life character, a behemoth of a man in stature, personality and style, three things that give him a magnetic effect whenever he’s on the screen.
Documentary has always been a style of filmmaking that can appeal more to a filmmaker than a general audience, meaning that the director’s job is to make the viewer care as much about this (often minute) topic as much as they, a person who’s spent maybe years filming and editing. Barring that, the next best thing is to have a central topic that’s so magnetic that it wipes away many of the film’s faults as a movie. Andre falls into this second category, something that is a bit of a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing because Talley genuinely seems like a person worth documenting. He’s flamboyant, intelligent and fast-talking, a cultured man who’s traveled the world and cultivated a love of beauty and fashion in all the myriad forms they can take. And it’s unfortunate because, as much as I understand the reasons any person would find Talley incredibly fascinating, the film itself doesn’t quite convey this, at least in any way that can be considered truly emotional or touching.
Much of the problem is that Novack has a story she wants to tell and you can see the ways in which the sausage is being made here. Perhaps the problem is that she wants to cover the entirety of Talley’s life while also forcing a lot of pertinence to Andre’s youth living in the Jim Crow South. Not that this wouldn’t obviously be an important aspect of his life, but Novack has a tendency to spell things out a bit too much instead of letting the film take form in a more organic manner.
Much of this feels like the fault of the film’s format. This is fairly basic documentary filmmaking, complete with the usual glut of talking heads who pop up here and there to talk about Andre the person. But what comes along with this is the opportunity to really spell out the main thesis of the film (and, by proxy, Andre’s entire life) via some carefully placed interview footage. The film is frustrating in the ways in which it literally lays out everything it wants to say, making for a film that lacks in a certain nuance. Not that any of this makes Andre a total dud since Talley is so fascinating. But it does make for a film that lacks any real impact.
Rated PG-13 for some thematic and suggestive content. Opens Friday, June 15 at Grail Moviehouse.