Documentary filmmaker Lana Wilson returned to Sundance with a powerful two-part documentary, Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields. Each part of Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields runs 68 minutes for a combined run time of 2 hours, 16 minutes.
When I was growing up, I didn’t know Brooke Shields from her work as a child star. No, I mainly knew her from the NBC sitcom, Suddenly Susan. A lot of what happens in the film came as news to me. I had no idea how much her mother, Teri, pushed her when it came to getting work in movies and such. This certainly doesn’t get me start on all the sexualizing and objectifying in the industry. It is not an understatement to stress that the film is pretty damning when it comes to how women are objectified and sexualized in the industry. I certainly could not blame Brooke Shields for choosing to go to Princeton for college and then show off her comedy chops. For Shields, it was all about regaining her agency in a world that says you must do this and that.
The actress got her start as a model before making her way into acting. At every step of the way, she was sexualized. You could see it in her wardrobe, hair, and makeup. None of this should be normal and yet, she was not even a teenager on the set of Pretty Baby at the time of filming. Shields was portraying a 12-year-old child prostitute in 1917. Listen, I get that the film is based on a true story. It’s even written by the late Polly Platt. Which studio executive at Paramount Pictures even thought this was a good idea to greenlight?!? Days before I attended a Sundance screening, Kino Lorber Studio Classics also announced that the film would be coming soon to Blu-ray by way of a 4K scan from the original camera negative.
As if starring in Pretty Baby wasn’t enough, there were a pair of teensploitation films, The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love. On top of this, Shields was also in the controversial Calvin Klein ads. All of this comes through by way of archive footage or the many media appearances throughout her career. Documentary filmmaker Lana Wilson contrasts this with present day interviews with Shields, who reflects on the earlier time in her career. In addition to speaking about her mother, Shields also discusses her previous marriage to tennis star Andre Agassi and her later struggles with becoming a mother herself.
Audiences won’t be able to watch the documentary until a later date but it’ll get people talking. You can say the same thing about Pamela, a love story. This is mostly because both women get their agency back later on in their career. Their lives are very different but the two documentaries certainly complement each other. If you’re up for a four-hour double feature later this year, it’s certainly worth it. But I digress.
Lana Wilson was initially hesitant in directing another celebrity documentary. Coming off of Miss Americana, you probably couldn’t blame her. And yet, I’m not sure if I could imagine Brooke Shields telling her story for another director and getting the same result. Wilson and company go through the entire Brooke Shields archive to tell this story. Outside of maybe making it a three- or four-partner, I’m really not sure how this film could be improved anymore than it already is.
If Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields shows audiences anything, it’s that the culture hasn’t changed much at all. We owe it to ourselves to do better.
DIRECTOR: Lana Wilson
FEATURING: Brooke Shields
Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields held its world premiere during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program. ABC News will stream the documentary on Hulu later this year. Grade: 4.5/5
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