May 12, 2003- Review - Grade B

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Spanish Moss Productions
Directed by: Michele Maher
Written by: Michele Maher
Cast: David Thornton, Katie MacNichol, Saundra Santiago,
Jerry Grayson, Juan Carlos Hernandez
Screened at: Preview 9, NYC, 5/12/03

As a guy with a career as a high-school teacher, I understand the importance of labels to competitive adolescents. If you're not wearing the right clothes, you're an outcast, and to teens that's a fate worse than death. You've got to wear the right sneakers and that does not necessarily mean the footwear with the best quality, but the kind used by, say, Michael Jordan. 
Your pants, at least in New York, must have the Rikers look,
baggier than the receptacles picked up daily (or now, weekly) by the New York Sanitation Department. While writer-director Michele Maher only briefly comments on what teachers and other intellectuals call the consumers' false values (the kids should be learning Plato, not wearing Prada), she saves her barbs for the executives involved in the rag trade, principally within thirty blocks on Manhattan's West Side. We see the minimum-wage workers sewing label after label into the jeans that the honchos of the shmatta trade hope will be snapped up, but Ms. Maher does not concern herself with the gap between what the suits get and the earnings of those who sew those suits. Nor does she look into the fashion beat: the ultra-thin models who parade up and down the catwalks to introduce the
latest styles sought by the well-to-do. "Garmento" deals only
with denim. She targets the corruption within the industry: the
backstabbing, the lying, the counterfeit game, the excesses of Madison Avenue visuals.

For this ensemble production, Maher chooses some fine
performers who are not household names but who for the most part have spent much of their time on the legitimate stage rather than in celluloid. David Thornton takes on the role of Ronnie Grossman, a major player in the designer house of Poncho Ramirez whose luck has not been so great of late. The underwear that Poncho (Juan Hernandez) created is the masculine answer to the wonderbra in accentuating the male member. Poncho hopes that young men will believe that size counts, even if you're fully dressed, and that if you are not of superhuman measurements, feel free to pretend by wearing a cup inside the unmentionables. When sales go detumescent, however, Poncho moved into creating a new line of Poncho Ramirez jeans, moving the company's profits into the stratosphere thanks to an ad campaign that utilizes underage kids, a promotion that benefits greatly when religious groups protest the immorality of the advertising. Unable to fill the huge demand for Poncho's denim, the company resorts to a technique often used by the cheap competition for successful products, leading to a decline in the economic health of the business.

The shady dealings of Poncho and Ronnie, furthered by the
insistence on sexy looks by executive Franca Fortuna (Saundra Santiago), on successful mergers by Ira Gold (Jerry Grayson), and on making more money by executive assistant Grindy Malone (Katie Macnichol) go well beyond the limited scope of Maher's vision. When corporations like Enron cheat the workers and stockholders by cooking the books and shoddy goods are regularly sneaked onto an unsophisticated public (as Arthur Miller exquisitely illustrated in his first play, "All My Sons"), doubts are cast on the great benefits the our so-called free market gives to the public. "Garmento" avoids Arthur Miller's bombastic melodrama while at the same time pushing the envelope more vigorously than the laid-back Christopher Guest (whose "The Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show" are as gentle as terrific as satire gets). In exploring the excesses of the rag trade, "Garmento" offers its audience a number of flat-
out laughs and a generally amusing, if obvious, parody.

Rated R. 87 minutes. Copyright 2003