“I never wanted to look young. I wanted to look great.” So says one of the stylish subjects of Lina Plioplyte’s documentary Advanced Style, a modestly charming and severely affectionate portrait of Manhattan’s most fashionable women over 50. Thin enough to fit into a size 0 with room to spare, Advanced Style is an extension of photographer Ari Seth Cohen’s blog of the same name, which has grown famous by capturing how women can be vital and creative at any age. Opening with Cohen himself approaching older ladies on the streets of New York and asking if he can take their picture, the film begins as a glorified ad for the Advanced Style brand. Only by virtue of the project’s obvious sincerity is this 65-minute (pre-credits) love letter able to overcome that first impression and justify its existence.
The film centers its attention on eight amazing women, who range in age from their early 60s to their late 90s. Each of these ladies, who dress like Carrie Bradshaw’s fever dreams and possess the sort of energy that most people would be happy to have in their teens, are individuals to the end. If Plioplyte introduces them in a hurried avalanche of zebra print and toilet-paper-roll bracelets, perhaps that’s because she knows that her subjects are easy to differentiate and impossible to forget.
The radiant personalities of the women, and their penchant for giving new life to old platitudes, allow Advanced Style to get by without much of a narrative trajectory or shape of any kind. The film shares the blog’s respect for these peacocks of the Upper East Side (though Plioplyte’s attention isn’t confined to the neighborhood), palpably admiring how they use their appearance as a conduit for self-discovery and self-expression at precisely the same time that most people begin to fold into themselves. Between infrequent appearances from talking heads like Iris Apfel and Dita Von Teese, the film enters the apartments of its subjects and explores just how much fashion reflects their experiences. Without rendering any explicit judgment, Plioplyte observes how most of these women live alone, one of them insisting that her bags are her children and that they require as much upkeep as any family would.
Although Advanced Style is little more than a string of small profiles that broadly cohere into anti-ageist propaganda, it’s nevertheless a cogent reminder that people are so often defined by the things they need that it’s easy to dismiss the things that they don’t. All these women have to do is pay the rent—they’re not beholden to anything else, and they never forget that. Still, for all its warmth and positivity, this cornerstone of the Advanced Style “movement” just barely clears the bar for paid entertainment. Serviceably shot on HD, the film would be a much better fit as a premium cable hour-long, something that can be replayed ad infinitum during awkwardly sized programming blocks that aren’t big enough for a feature. There isn’t much here that you can’t see on the catwalks of Manhattan, but Advanced Style is still a glamorous invitation to look closer.