Film Review: Cuties (2020)

Also known as: Mignonnes (original French title)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2020 (Sundance)
Directed by: Maïmouna Doucouré
Written by: Maïmouna Doucouré
Music by: Niko Noki
Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Maïmouna Gueye

Bien Ou Bien Productions, France 3 Cinéma, BAC Films, Canal+, 96 Minutes

Review:

I normally wouldn’t have watched this or even cared about it. But since it’s the most controversial film of the fucking year, I couldn’t not watch it, review it and give my two cents.

That being said, I’ll probably piss off both sides of the debate because I’m not going to bash it as “pedo candy”, I’ll explain why, and I’m not going to pass it off like some sort of amazing motion picture that the world has been begging for and has desperately needed.

To start, this is controversial because the film is about a group of young girls who are trying to be a dance team; these girls are all about eleven years-old. They’re influenced by the provocative and highly sexual dance moves that they see all over the Internet from rap videos and other sources.

This, of course, makes people uncomfortable and it’s supposed to. However, these moments don’t make up the bulk of the movie and the film itself is really focused on one girl primarily.

This girl, Amy, comes from an immigrant family who have moved to France from Senegal. Her family is very religious and her actions in the film are a rebellion against the traditions of that strict religion and an exploration of the new things she’s found, culturally, in her new home. All the while, she’s also broken up by how changes in her family dynamic are emotionally effecting her mother and the structure of the family unit she’s used to.

Watching this as an American, I don’t know much about the culture of Senegal and how immigrants from that country would be effected by the socially liberal French that they would find themselves surrounded by. Honestly, I was kind of intrigued by this and would’ve liked to have seen it explored in a broader sense and not specifically from the viewpoint of one character. But maybe for those in France, where this film was made, it’s not as interesting, as other French films may have touched on it already.

But I feel like this film is pretty disjointed and it’s not all that coherent from a narrative standpoint. It plays more like a series of sequences with some connectivity but a lot of the film seems really random. Its like the director/writer is recalling actual moments from her own experience growing up and doesn’t realize that the audience might need some deeper context.

For instance, there’s a scene where Amy takes a picture of her private parts and uploads it to the Internet. It’s random as hell, really uncomfortable and isn’t really followed up on in any meaningful way, other than having some kid at school slap her ass. Did it need to be in the film? Was it just there for shock value?

Additionally, this is a coming-of-age story and it’s not really clear what the main character has learned or how she’s grown. Sure, she has an emotional breakdown and what appears to be a scary moment of clarity when she’s achieved her goal but the movie sort of ends and you’re sort of just left going, “Um… okay?”

What’s even worse is that this film is really well acted from top-to-bottom but the performances feel wasted.

This had the makings of something that could’ve been interesting but it’s honestly a really boring and drab movie. Even though there’s a plot progression, it feels like not much happens apart from the uncomfortable finale and a few weird moments dropped in.

The thing that has people in an uproar are the scenes that have leaked out that feature these young girls dancing in an over-sexualized way. The thing is, if you know kids or remember when you were that age, kids didn’t know a damn thing about sex but they all talked about it. I remember girls in my middle school days emulating the dances they saw in 2 Live Crew videos. This is nothing knew but maybe I also grew up in a more urban area and I was exposed to things that middle America wasn’t. I can only speak from my own experiences and memories but I’m pretty sure kids this age, everywhere, weren’t too dissimilar.

What is bizarre and sort of counterproductive to the director’s stated intent, is how the dancing scenes are filmed. The movie is made to critique and expose the over-sexualization of kids, especially young girls, but in trying to speak out against that, the film does exactly that. So I have to conclude that the director is either lying to cover her ass or a moron.

You could’ve made your point without closeup shots of eleven year-olds crotches and booties. Once or twice, I might roll my eyes but it did feel gratuitous. And frankly, I think it would’ve been a lot more effective having them dance but having the camera looking out to the crowd, getting their reactions to seeing young girls dance in such a way. But I’m not the artist, here.

I can’t say that I’m offended by it, I just sort of got through these moments like, “Really, you had to go there?” And maybe this was deliberate and the director knew that it’d get attention and that the media and film industry being the way they are, would show support. I’m leaning more towards her being an idiot, though.

Additionally, what tune would Hollywood and the media be singing if this was made by a white dude? And since it’s not made by a white dude, is the director getting a free pass? Why do we have to even ask these questions in 2020?

While I think this isn’t “pedo candy” (or why it isn’t intended to be) is due to the fact that these moments don’t happen often in the overall running time of the picture. I highly doubt that the director had that intention. I think she wanted to make something personal but didn’t realize that she was doing the same thing she wanted to expose as a problem. You don’t clear a flood by hosing it down and someone else working on the picture or producing it should’ve stepped in.

It also doesn’t help how Netflix initially marketed this film. They’ve since apologized and removed their pedo-tastic poster but the damage was done and it makes you wonder about the suits at Netflix making these decisions. As you can see above, the film’s original poster wasn’t offensive or provocative.

So yeah, I get the pushback but I’ve never been a fan of puritans of any kind. While I’ve gone on Twitter to chime in on the film’s marketing in the US market, I didn’t feel like I had a right to comment on a film I hadn’t seen. But we live in a time where everyone is outraged about everything without actually having the full context. That’s the main reason I felt like I needed to watch the movie when I’m surrounded by those trashing it or talking it up without actually watching it.

Any critic that tells you that this is anything more than “meh” is a shill, however. While that’s my opinion, from my point-of-view, my opinion is fact.

In the end, without the controversy, this is a completely forgettable film. While I would’ve liked to have learned more about the Senegalese experience in France, I was left with a mostly boring movie that felt aimless and didn’t effectively make its point or develop its main character in any sort of meaningful way. In fact, this film does the opposite of what it set out to do.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age movies from Europe, I guess. I don’t watch a lot of those.