Friday, October 19, 2012

Sexy Baby: Susan B. Anthony Weeps

What hath the sexual revolution wrought?  It is a question parents should be asking in the internet age.  Documentary filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus sort of explore the issue, but doggedly avoid criticizing any potentially controversial targets in Sexy Baby (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Bauer and Gradus follow three POV figures as they come to terms with the social expectations for women today.  Winnifred is an intelligent but painfully obnoxious pre-teen living in Manhattan.  At first, she seems to be refreshingly self-aware, decrying the objectification of women in a production staged by her hipster youth theater group.  However, we quickly see her doing all the dumb, self-defeating things we assumed she would avoid.  Nichole worked as a porn star under the name Nakita Kash and still performs as a pole dancer.  She and her husband are trying to start a family, but they have been frustrated thus far.  Laura is a teacher’s assistant about to undergo labiaplasty to boost her self-esteem.  Her mother does not quite understand Laura’s decision, but she supports her regardless.

What can you say when the most down-to-earth and demur character in a film is a former porn star?  Genuinely reflective, “Kash” acknowledges the pervasiveness of adult films and the distorted perspective they offer.  She has a real point when she cautions parents they cannot completely prevent their children from seeing such imagery anymore.  Rather, it is more important they do not allow such material to become their first and primary source of information.

While Kash has something to say, nobody else really does.  Frankly, Bauer and Gradus get so bored with the labiaplasty story line, they avoid checking-in with it for long stretches of time (good call, by the way). In contrast, they are overly enamored with Winnifred, inflicting endless Facebook misadventures on the audience.  Truly, the one thing that comes through loud in clear during the Manhattan sequences is the utter inability of late-era baby boomers to parent effectively.

While it makes some salient points here and there, Sexy Baby is just a complete mess.  It is incapable of taking any sort of stand, giving hip hop’s degrading lyrics and predatory, X-rated video-producing rappers a complete pass.  Instead, it is porn-obsessed, often displaying the same lurid inclinations it decries in others, while occasionally lobbing the odd salvo at Madison Avenue.  That is highly problematic filmmaking.

Bauer and Gradus never challenge the politicized feminism espoused by Winnifred’s mother nor do they question the sexual revolution of the 1960’s.  Naturally, conservative cultural critiques are scrupulously ignored.  Sexy Baby is sort of a bizarre manifestation of Luddism, blaming all our social ills on increased access to computers.  The concern motivating the film is well-founded, but the execution is an erratic mishmash.  Not recommended, Sexy Baby opens today (10/19) in New York at the Quad Cinema.