Jon J. Whelan’s ‘Stink!’ on a crusade to clear the air over lax laws


Jon J. Whelan’s documentary “Stink!” is a movie with a mission: aiming to expose how much American companies rely on an under-regulated, potentially harmful ingredient-stew they dub “fragrance.” Inspired by Whelan’s inability to find out what made his tween daughters’ pajamas smell foul, the film rails against a system that protects manufacturers over consumers.

“Stink” works best as the personal story of an amateur crusader. Whelan lost his wife to cancer and wants to keep his kids safe from toxins, which makes his frustration highly relatable as he hears one corporate spokesperson after another say their list of ingredients is “proprietary.”

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Whelan employs a first-person, fast-paced style, similar to documentarians like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. “Stink” is far less jokey though just as entertaining.

Is it persuasive? Yes and no. Though it’s not always Whelan’s fault, his inability to get answers from the manufacturing industry means that his documentary sometimes feels more like a long, angry blog post than journalism.

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A lot of scary data is thrown onto the screen in “Stink,” but the conclusions frequently seem specious, assuming that a wide range of health problems can all be traced to an environment fouled by chemicals.

Still, while Whelan repeats his points too much, it remains gripping and maddening throughout to watch him run into stone walls. At the least, his concerns merit further research — and a better official response than “We can’t talk about that.”


No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills