Lionsgate // 2008 // 187 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kerry Birmingham (Retired) // October 9th, 2008
Meet the mother of all moguls.
If the continued dominance of reality television is guilty of anything (and it's guilty of many things), it's in continually lowering the bar in terms of its subject matter. From the depths of stupid stunts and animal testicle-eating that sustained hits like Jackass and Fear Factor for so long, there's an equally odious school at the other end of the spectrum: the school of reality television that assumes being excessive is the same thing as being interesting. Hell, VH1' s cannibalistic line of "Celebreality" shows are successfully based around this concept. The E! network, never exactly known as the most restrained and tasteful channel to begin with, apes this same strategy, parading mid-level celebrities with a wink that says, "Watch this train wreck happen" (and happen it does: Anna Nicole Smith's reality show had been a staple for the network). E! also thought we would want to see cartoonish fashion mogul Kimora Lee Simmons as she manages her fashion line and her children. E! was wrong. Welcome to the new low of reality television: lowbrow disguised as highbrow. All things considered, I think I'd rather watch her eat an animal testicle.
St. Louis-born Kimora Lee Simmons started her career as a model, eventually marrying hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons and having two daughters, Aoki, 4, and Ming, 7. Steward of the well-known Baby Phat fashion line and its subsidiaries, Simmons leads an international, jet-setting lifestyle while trying to maintain her label and her family.
Season One covers seven episodes (including two double-length ones),
* Kimora Cam-Pain: Kimora and her staff must come up with a photo campaign for the fall line, even while working on designs for the new Kimora Barbie doll.
* Vanity Fair: Kimora must prepare for Vanity Fair magazine's big party.
* The Devil Wears Baby Phat: As things get even busier at Baby Phat, the staff whittles down candidates for Kimora's new assistant.
* Kimora Knows She Cannes: Baby Phat goes international as the staff invades the Cannes Film Festival to promote the line to the European market.
* Keepin' It Real Estate: Kimora has just three days to find a new Los Angeles home for her family.
* In Store for Fabulosity: The staff of Baby Phat prepares a launch party at their storefront to celebrate the launch of Hello Kitty jewelry.
* Kiddie Couture: Kimora decides to have Aoki and Ming design their own Baby Phat line of clothes with the help of one nervous designer.
There is a kernel of something inspiring in Kimora's story, a rags-to-riches voyage from Midwestern childhood outcast to head of her own fashion label and celebrity wife. The inspiration stops, however, when it becomes obvious that the gawky little girl from St. Louis has grown up to become a shrill, demanding, spoiled dilettante. To be fair, Simmons is clearly playing up the diva-bitch persona for the camera; as an actress, she makes a decent model. Parading around like a more exotic Paris Hilton and barking demands as if she has The Devil Wears Prada on a constant loop in the background for inspiration, Simmons plays the spoiled little rich girl with reckless abandon, torturing her assistants and the put-upon staff of Baby Phat with a mix of ice-cold rancor and familial pigtail-pulling.
As if her hot-cold interactions with her staff weren't enough to put viewers off of her "fabulosity" (Kimora's non-catchphrase catchphrase, spouted by the staff at Baby Phat constantly), the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous approach to other aspects of her life is equally shallow. Seemingly impossible to please, she gives a Los Angeles realtor three days to track down a suitable multi-million dollar mansion; indulging her daughters, she tasks one of her designers to corral them into designing their own line of kids' wear. Life in the Fab Lane is full of these kinds of needlessly complicated challenges and forced melodrama, as if the world hinged on a launch party for a line of Hello Kitty jewelry. In theory it works as reality television edited to within an inch of its life, though in practice it comes across as desperate attempts to wring drama from largely undramatic situations. That all of Kimora's troubles are momentary and seconds away from a solution is fait accompli; just add money and watch the manufactured dilemmas disappear. She does seem to genuinely love her daughters, who alternate between being adorable toddlers and nascent Leona Helmsleys ("I'm glad Mommy kept you," one says to the personal chef after she approves of a meal). Russell Simmons, the girls' father and well-known creator of things like Def Comedy Jam, is rarely seen on camera, if at all, outside of the double-length pilot. Kimora is nothing if not assertive: of herself, of her business acumen, of her love for her family, even of her self-perception as a feminist role model -a claim actual feminists might balk at when she, for example, strikes a blow for the women's movement by insisting that the Kimora Barbie have a genuine faux chinchilla coat (for optimum fabulosity, of course).
Whatever grounding her family provides is lost in the sheer decadence of the Simmons' surroundings. Eager-to-please new assistant Mallory is given a tour of the family's New York mansion (after being scolded for not using the Service Entrance) and she marvels, agape, at such extravagances as a solid-gold toilet seat. We're meant to covet the Simmons' lifestyle-"Yachting is my passion," purrs Kimora at Cannes-but nothing here feels like a genuine life, even one with the limitless options that evades most of us. She's aiming for high glamour, both with her clothing line and with her television show, but the result is camp without irony, cartoon "reality" complete with double-takes and Hanna-Barbera sound effects (there's more than one outrageous demand punctuated by a shot of a shocked underling and a BOOOOOIIINNNG!). Life in the "Fab Lane" doesn't much resemble what you or I know as life, it's just bling and money, signifying nothing.
Special features include bonus segments not aired in the original episodes and the "Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane Secrets" special, a sort of biography/behind-the-scenes piece that doubles as another episode of the show. Trailers for other similarly soul-crushing reality shows round out the extras. Sound quality is fine, though picture quality is marred by rampant aliasing.
There is that train wreck factor. Kimora doesn't have the same plucked-from-the-ghetto vibe as I Love New York or the white-trash-free-for-all feel of Rock of Love, but she does prove to be a genuine character (albeit a two-dimensional one), working the camera, her staff, her kids, and her business with a kind of charisma characterized by its relentlessness. She's no dummy, but she uses her powers for evil instead of good.
Aiming for something with the bitchy allure of Project: Runway and the drama of a nighttime soap, Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane doesn't reach those same "guilty pleasure" heights, choosing to wrap its essentially uninteresting subject matter in ooh-la-la opulence and melodrama that comes across as manufactured even for a reality show. Fashionistas looking for insight and behind-the-scenes gossip won't find much to go on, and those with a taste for elegant trash TV will find Kimora wanting. It's trash all right, but largely unentertaining trash, and if it's going to be boring and not even try for substance, why bother?
Review content copyright © 2008 Kerry Birmingham; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 187 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Segments
* Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane Secrets