Beautiful Faces (2024), Celebrating Dr. Larry Sargent & His Patients The Global Tofay

Beautiful Faces (2024), Celebrating Dr. Larry Sargent & His Patients The Global Tofay Global Today

I’m not one to shy away from graphic content in films, but that most often applies when I know that everything is staged. Documentaries that have graphic content warnings are, in my mind, something else entirely. Director Dagan W. Beckett’s documentary film, Beautiful Faces, comes with multiple warnings throughout. This is because the film features real footage in a surgery room, where Dr. Larry Sargent meticulously works on children who have facial deformities or defects due to genetic abnormalities or trauma. 

This is not to say that you shouldn’t watch the film, but I would be lying if I said that it’s an “easy” viewing experience. Not only is it a heartwrenching (but ultimately uplifting) depiction of three children and their unique circumstances and stories, but it’s also a highly technical and graphic exploration of craniofacial surgery. Dr. Larry Sargent is the thread that connects all of the stories, and while we do get some exposure to him and even his family, the film focuses more on the children, their families, and how they experienced different types of deformities and injuries. 

For years, deformities or any kind of physical abnormalities, particularly in children, were things that were to be pitied, but not really discussed outside of medical settings. The details were kept between the families and a team of medical professionals. Beautiful Faces removes the shroud, occasionally even touching on what some might see as taboo subjects. In a particularly moving segment, the mother of Beth — a child who has struggled with extreme deformities and disabilities since birth — discusses her initial lack of love for her child. She recounts feeling enraged that she had been dealt such a complicated hand; she felt so overwhelmed that she even contemplated suicide before finding solace in her faith. 

With the help of therapists and embracing her role as the child’s “caregiver,” Beth’s mother eventually came to terms with her daughter’s condition and felt the motherly love that had escaped her for so long. While Beth’s story occupies a large portion of the film, two other patients, Greer and Josh — now much older and further removed from their surgeries — discuss how their lives were transformed by the doctor’s skill and dedication as well. This gives us a view of more commonplace deformities (a cleft palate in Josh’s case) and how they shape confidence and even speaking abilities, as well as physical trauma (being kicked in the face by a horse) that requires fast but nuanced surgery to avoid long-term facial deformities.

Despite being at the center of the story, Dr. Sargent remains a somewhat enigmatic figure in the film. His former mentor and colleague describes Sargent as the most skilled craniofacial surgeon he’s ever known. The families who have been touched by the doctor’s work heap praise onto him for all the good he’s done for so many people, but they also describe him as quiet and absorbed in his work. Even in his solo interviews, Dr. Sargent appears somewhat apprehensive and camera shy, yet when we see him practicing his craft (as difficult as it may be to watch at times), he is the picture of professionalism and, to a degree, obsession with executing each surgery perfectly. 

Dr. Larry Sargent in Beautiful Faces (2024)

Beautiful Faces jumps around from one state to another, interweaving stories that aren’t told often enough. We get to hear from experts on why Dr. Sargent’s work is so important. In an age when society seeks to redefine “beauty,” it’s important to still understand that we, as humans, have biological reactions to people whose appearances defy our expectations. Children who look or speak differently often suffer the most, as they develop identities almost exclusively built on these differences. For these kids and their families, Dr. Sargent isn’t just trying to make them look like everybody else to uphold traditional perceptions of beauty; he’s trying to ensure that they can live happy, healthy, productive lives, free of the pain, discomfort, and even ridicule that comes with physical deformity. 

As a documentary on the challenges of growing up with a traumatic injury or deformity, the experience of being a parent of a child with said problems, and even the complexities of “correcting” these issues, Beautiful Faces is extremely effective. It’s a fascinating watch that touches on everything from the way children interact with one another to the mental health of being a parent and caregiver of a disabled child. The film is certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you don’t mind watching a few sequences of real surgery, Beautiful Faces is well worth your time. 

Beautiful Faces Movie Rating: ★★★★ out of 5

If you’d like to watch Beautiful Faces (2024), the film is available to stream on Tubi as of July 5th, 2024. You can also learn more about the film by visiting Global Digital Releasing’s social pages on Facebook, X, and Instagram. For more film reviews like this one, be sure to check out the Philosophy in Film homepage!

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