By: Trevor Chartrand
Chasing Perfect is a car design documentary with a very narrow focus, and it will undoubtedly appeal to a fairly niche audience as a result. The film chronicles the life and career of legendary car designer Frank Stephenson, the creative mind behind a variety of modern vehicles from flashy sports cars to practical SUVs.
As a documentary subject, Frank Stephenson is an interesting character. He’s soft-spoken and calm, and he carries himself with a humbled sort of pride. He claims to be one of the most coveted car designers in the world, but there doesn’t seem to be much ego behind those words. He seems to have worked hard to get where he is, sacrificing many hours of sleep, among other things.
This film is appropriately titled, given its heavy focus on the theme of chasing perfection; it’s a concept that defines Frank’s ambition in both the cars he designs and the life he leads. He’s a great role model for those with a passion and drive to succeed in their field. In the film, he laments that his strict father practiced tough love to instil this mentality in him – since he was young he’s always been chasing the impossible dream of a flawless design.
The cars in the film all look great and Frank has a compelling story behind the development of each one. As he discusses his projects, Frank has a way of making his process relatable so that his anecdotes will not only appeal to car enthusiasts, but to the average layman as well. His inspiration often comes from nature, and it’s fun to learn how he landed on the shape and structure for each of his cars.
This film’s audience is fairly restricting, targeting an older generation with a passion for cars. Most of the vehicles featured in Chasing Perfect are the classic cars of yesteryear. The subjects of the doc are mostly baby boomers as well, including car enthusiast Jay Leno. On top of all that, the silver-haired subjects of this doc discuss their opposition to technology in the car design field – considering computer models inferior to the personal touch of clay molds and pen-to-paper sketches. These characters’ rejection of technology may alienate some younger viewers, but they make their point well – there’s a certain art form with doing things in the physical realm rather than a digital one.
On a technical level, the film is fairly well made. The cars are all shot well and director Helena Coan establishes a relaxed pace as well as a sense of comfortability with the interview subjects. The film does fall short of perfection however, especially in the audio department. For the most part this doc was shot in a controlled environment, where there’s no excuse for poor quality in the sound. It’s most noticeable due to bad choices in editing, where Frank’s audio track will often drop out suddenly, as if the last half of a sentence has been clipped. These audio edits are frequent and distracting, and no effort is made to hide them by the filmmakers.
While Chasing Perfect is by no means a perfect doc, it will certainly appeal to the audience it’s aiming at. I can picture my own father stumbling across this documentary on daytime TV and loving every moment of it. Watching this film is just like going to a classic car show, without ever having to leave the house.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor