‘Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields’ Review: Girlhood, Interrupted

In the 1978 Louis Malle drama “Pretty Baby,” Brooke Shields plays a child whose virginity is auctioned off in a New Orleans brothel. She was 11 at the time of filming. That film’s title gets reappropriated in the director Lana Wilson’s absorbing documentary, “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields,” which emulsifies its biography of Shields with lucid insights into the culture that shaped her.

Posed before a calming gray backdrop, the 57-year-old Shields seems preternaturally well-adjusted and is an enthusiastic chronicler of her own career. But like many tidy celebrity portraits, “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (on Hulu) hits its stride when cinematic memoir takes a back seat to cultural commentary.

Before Shields even hit puberty, the media had taken to framing her as either a Lolita or a demure darling — a Catch-22 that Wilson, through interviews with journalists and other actresses, positions within a history of Hollywood exploitation. Trapped in this binary, Shields failed to crystallize her identity until college, and the film’s second half traces her road to self-realization thereafter.

The documentary’s most absorbing ingredient by far is its excellent collage of archival footage. “I knew it was going to be done in good taste,” a precocious preteen Shields is shown to say of Malle’s film in an interview around its release. Assembled alongside analysis, this clip and others build a mood of reminiscence gone rancid and suggest a generation of women transformed by the prototypes society boxed them into.

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields
Not rated. Running time: 2 hours 18 minutes. Watch on Hulu.

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