In a Hurry: A superbly crafted, bargain-budget documentary that profiles a fascinating underdog—Project Runway's season-one winner, Jay McCarroll—and skillfully explores the troubled territory between reality TV and reality.
The Bigger Picture: You don't have to watch a single moment of Project Runway to know that McCarroll's story is something special. In an effort to disrobe his "reality-TV entertainer" reputation and claim the mantle of legitimate designer, Jay secured a runway, a hanger tent and 11 minutes on the last day of Fashion Week to showcase 30 different outfits to the merciless style elites of New York City.
The stakes are rightfully high. If the incredulous tastemakers smile upon Jay, he could be rewarded with huge contracts from major retailers. If they turn up their perfectly sculpted noses at his collection, then Jay will be considered a has-been—or worse, a never-was.
It's difficult to sympathize with the ego and affectations of a fashion designer, especially one who was introduced to style neophytes through a reality show. Yet Jay's laborious struggle to put together his first fashion show is irresistible. Not only do you care about Jay, you are avidly rooting for him as he haggles with publicists, Chinese sweatshop barons and a squadron of unpaid—and at times mutinous—seamstresses.
Reality-style, the cameras never click off. So the film crew captures Jay in all the grubby conversations every artist secretly dreads and simultaneously aches to be a part of: Who sits where at the show, which model is hot and which is a hag and most pressing, will Lindsay Lohan actually show up?!
But unlike a typical schadenfreude-inducing TV contest, you want Jay to succeed. Badly. He is relentlessly endearing. Whenever you are ready to dismiss him as an insufferable art brat, he says something so utterly self-aware, so filled with good intentions that your defenses are shot. In the end, all you want is for the ruthless fashion world to embrace this affable ball of desire and grit.
The 180—a Second Opinion: The fashion world is absurd, and the characters in it deserve your scorn. So if prolonged exposure cell-phone-wielding cougars and snooty beauty school dropouts makes your skin crawl, skip this.