It must be hard to have red hair. Especially if you’re a guy. At least that’s the impression you’ll get from Scott P. Harris’ entertainingly awkward documentary, Being Ginger. The low-budget indie film, financed in part by a Kickstarter campaign, follows Harris’ attempts at finding romance while being ridiculed for—you guessed it—being ginger.
As the film’s subject, Harris is desperately trying to find somebody to love. However, what he’s really trying to do is accept himself, red hair and all. The film begins with a single-minded focus on Harris’ quest for a date, but it manages to get much more personal than that along the way, as the filmmaker deals honestly with some distress caused by childhood bullying.
The slow-paced, modest documentary follows the sometimes amusing, sometimes brutal, sometimes pathetic adventures of Harris, a film student in his 30s who decided to turn the camera on his own anxieties.
The film essentially begins with the US-born Harris standing in a park in Edinburgh, Scotland trying to convince himself to stop random women and ask them if they find male redheads attractive. The premise is awkward but not compared to his flimsy execution. One of his interviewees, however, happens to admit on camera that she finds him attractive. So, instead of asking her out on the fly, he clumsily pursues her on Facebook later and eventually films their first date.
It’s this sort of quirky insecurity, courtesy of Harris, that simultaneously makes and breaks the film. To call Harris “self-deprecating” would be an understatement—the equivalent of calling his hair color “sort of red” or his skin “a little pale”. Because the film is entirely personal in nature, when his self-doubting moments are identifiable or comical, the movie is wholly watchable. However, the ginger’s lingering desperation amidst his candor can be a little grating.
Also, there are varying levels of production quality to be dealt with in Being Ginger. Crudely drawn sequences of animation serve as flashbacks of sorts and these fail both in their polish and usefulness in storytelling. Occasionally, the grassroots nature of the filmmaking also results in some dull choices in framing or editing. Harris is trying to simultaneously grow as a person and as a filmmaker, which is no easy task, so one intermittently gets in the way of the other. To be fair, Harris acknowledges the movie’s many weaknesses on screen in a way that could be seen as agreeably meta if it weren’t simply so apologetic.
He sits in front of a Final Cut editing bay talking to the camera, wondering how the film will be received. He recalls that the camera placement during the aforementioned first date was out of place, not properly framing his date in the intended two shot. He says it may have sabotaged the film, but that he couldn’t bring himself to make the date more awkward than it already was by readjusting the camera.
But if there’s anybody that’s ready to admit his mistakes, it’s Harris.
In the film he regrettably spends time browsing a dating website devoted entirely to gingers whose tagline really is “Every year 4.2 million gingers become single, lonely, sad.” That venture, too, turns out to be a mistake.
In the midst of this oddball pursuit of romance, we learn of the filmmaker’s troubled childhood and the source of his anxiety. In one moving scene, he recalls a former elementary school teacher who threatened to string him up like a piñata in front of the entire class if he didn’t stop whining about being bullied. It’s agonizing to learn he was bullied mercilessly as a child mostly due to the shade of his hair.
Up until this point in the documentary, the director made being a ginger sound merely atypical, and a bit difficult, due to the insulting comments of some passersby, but suddenly Harris’ problems pack an emotional wallop.
While the film doesn’t dwell on this hard-hitting tangent like it could, it turns out the young director has good reason to be vulnerable. Yet despite the rather universal story that comes out of Harris’ perceived inadequacies, the film could have used some more depth here, coming in at a mere 69 minutes in its runtime.
In contrast to all of Harris’ unfortunate troubles, is plenty of heart and humor. Harris’ close friend Ben, who has a tornado of wild hair worthy of its own documentary, provides some comic relief to balance the film’s weightier moments. Equally hilarious is the coaxing and teasing from his camerawoman, Lou McLoughlan. While watching him practice different looks in the bathroom mirror she jokes, “Do you have, like, an attractive expression?”
The real high note of the film is Harris’ trip to Holland where he attends a convention billed as the world’s largest gathering of redheads. There he still pities his pasty skin and fiery hair color, makes new friends—almost exclusively gingers—and gets lots of free sunscreen. He even shows clips from his Being Ginger film before a crowded theater, the very film you’re watching the finished version of. At this astonishing gathering of gingers, Harris thinks about breaking one of his many irrational, self-imposed rules: “redheads don’t date redheads.”
He falls for a beautiful redhead named Emily, who happens to already have a boyfriend. Once again, near the film’s conclusion his romantic hopes are ruined, almost instantaneously reverting him back to the self-conscious, downhearted fellow you’ve been rooting for the entire film. If only he’d gained some confidence along the way. At least, he’s made a watchable, unique film. For all its shortcomings, enjoying Being Ginger certainly seems easier than actually being ginger. Especially if you’re Scott P. Harris.