In L.A.Times reporter Noel Murray’s view, Jon Whelan’s documentary is a fast-paced 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. Whelan quickly discovers that they have no obligation to reveal chemicals used in their products, even if those chemicals can cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive damage.
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.”
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.”