Title: Sexy Baby
Directors: Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus
With the proliferation of online pornography, the advent of “sexting” and the ever-present synaptic connection of social media, sexual maturation and in particular notions of womanhood are changing for adolescents and twentysomethings. “Sexy Baby,” an inquisitive and engaging new documentary from Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, attempts to sift through this mass media assault and shifting mores, to determine the toll this seeming increase in titillation is taking on America.
The film takes as its subjects three unconnected women of different ages, and then follows them over the course of about three years. Twelve-year-old Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, is a preternaturally gifted New Yorker whose separated parents Jennifer and Ken try to encourage independent thinking and nudge her away from risqué dress and behavior. Nichole Romagna, aka Nakita Kash, is a 32-year-old ex-porn star and exotic dancer who now gives pole-dancing classes to suburban Florida housewives and college students, and is trying to conceive a child with her husband Dave. In the middle is Laura Castle, a 22-year-old teacher’s assistant in Charlotte who’s been saving up her money for a cosmetic vaginal surgery, convinced that the lips of her labia are too big.
The undeniable breakout star of “Sexy Baby” is the frighteningly smart and candid Winnifred, and in a broader sense the entire Bonjean-Alpart family, who grapple in very human ways with finding a balance between growing up too fast and growing up healthy and plugged into the real world around them in an honest way. They’re by most yardsticks liberal (Jennifer is a defense lawyer who’s obviously informed her daughter’s sense of social justice), but their feelings and concerns are certainly universal. Winnifred’s intelligence and vulnerability are captivating — at one moment she’s holding forth in a media critique stageplay on the lyrics of Soulja Boy, and then later she’s sinking to the floor in pre-teen misery, exclaiming, “Facebook is a beautiful place, and I can’t have it,” and “I need social networking.”
“Sexy Baby” isn’t particularly sophisticated in its capturing and construction, and the sound, seemingly captured via camera mics, is sometimes a problem, with dialogue awash in background clatter. It’s true, too, that the movie — which pretty much cedes its tone and focus to its subjects — is really a look at the impact of pornography and media imagery in only the most glancing fashion. While some frat boys are interviewed about their porn proclivities and real-world preferences, Bauer and Gradus eschew academic analysis and don’t attempt with much sustained effort to get into advertising or how it endeavors to hijack highly testosteronized impulses.
And while Winnifred’s adolescence (and the rapidly changing opinions and interests that accompany it) certainly provide a compelling vehicle and mini-case study for one young girl’s coming-of-age in the digital world, Nichole’s quest for pregnancy — notwithstanding her insightful views on the adult industry — feels like an entirely different narrative. The same is largely true with Laura, who is the least reflective and broadly self-aware of the subjects, and remains mostly a cipher.
Given the semi-explicit nature of the film (elements of Laura’s labiaplasty exam are shown, alongside some porn imagery), it’s interesting if perhaps not surprising to note that a “high school version” of the movie is also in the works, for educational instruction. That ultimately may be “Sexy Baby”‘s most important accomplishment — as a very surface-level-oriented and sometimes lurid conversation-starter for younger audiences, to get them to start thinking critically about their feelings and drives, their bodies, and their interrelated nature with society.
NOTE: In addition to its iTunes and VOD availability, “Sexy Baby” opens this week in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7. For more information on the movie, visit its Facebook page and/or www.SexyBabyMovie.com/thefilm.php.
Written by: Brent Simon