Trying to fall in love with film again.

The marketing brouhaha screwed Cuties.

Story 

Cuties tells the story of  Amy, a young immigrant from Senegal living with her mother and two brothers in Paris. As she manoeuvres her new life in Paris she becomes enamoured by her neighbour Angelica's dance group called Cuties, the way they dress, act and converse being a swift contrast to her conservative, Muslim upbringing. 

The story at its core is a coming of age story. It focuses on Amy's moral and psychological growth as she changes throughout the movie. That is the main focus. It tells the story of a girl who is trying to find her place and figure out who she is. 

Usually coming of age movies don't centre around characters this young and it was a bold choice for the protagonist to be as young as she is. I can't for sure say it was the right one. 

Acting 

The acting in this movie surprised me. Fathia Youssouf (a first-time actress) carries the bulk of the film's dramatic weight and she does so with ease. You feel Amy's pain and the inherent stress that she feels throughout the film. She constantly grapples with the question, Who do I want to be? and by the end of the movie, she has seemingly answered the question. The best of her acting comes in the second act when she seems to be growing into her new role. Sure she seems more confident but there is also an insecurity in her performance. Especially when the possibility that the life she is actually living and the life her family think she is living are about to collide. She puts up a front, but at her core, she is a scared girl and that girl begins to come out when she realises that she is unrecognisable to her family and "friends" and has made choices that cannot be undone. 

The rest of the performances are really good. The beauty of the performances is that you have 11-year olds playing 11-year olds. From their mannerisms to the pitch and tone of their voices, it's believable. That is what makes the subject matter all the more heartbreaking and uncomfortable because these aren't adults playing prepubescent girls, they really are that young.

Even the adults do a good job here. The best of them being Maïmouna Gueye who plays Amy's mother. You see her balance her own emotional needs with what is expected of her, a parallel between her and Amy.

Writing/Direction 

The writing in this movie is better than I initially gave it credit for. There are so many subtle nods and winks to what is going on with Amy and the changes she makes throughout the movie. Her change is well documented, not only through her clothes but her hair and overall demeanour. And it all comes to a head in the third act when she has a moment of realisation. 

Decider pointed out something interesting in their review of the movie, it's a visual contrast between the narrow halls of Amy's apartment and the wide-open aired shots of the Cuties when they're rehearsing for their subsequent dance competition. It does a great job of showing the claustrophobic nature of Amy's two halves. Something I didn't notice when I first watched the movie. 

There are a lot of visual cues as to what the characters are feeling. The director Maïmouna Doucouré also does a good job of using them to clue us in to the perspective of each character and they are usually conveyed through over the shoulder shots. We follow Amy as she navigates her new school and her fascination with the Cuties and as the movie goes on and she begins to change, we switch between hers, other characters and a third-person perspective meant to give us an outside look at Amy rather than the introspective one that we've been used to. 

The movie also makes a very interesting visual distinction and that towards the end of the movie. 

There is a scene I saw on twitter from the end of the movie that depicts the scene in question.
I put this in here for two reasons, one to say that it is used without context. There is a whole 1 hour 30 minutes of the movie before this that add much-needed context to the video, that makes it make a little sense. (Now I'm not saying the scene is appropriate. What I am saying is that watching that clip alone removes what happens before and after. Nothing happens in a vacuum.) 

During the aforementioned clip, we pan to the audience and the reactions from the audience members and judges is something worth noting. You have men in the audience that have no issue with young girls dancing in provocative clothes doing sexually suggestive dance moves but then you pan to the women who look troubled and disturbed by what they are seeing. And that right there is the crux of the movie's message. You have these young girls dancing in a way that rubs a lot of people the wrong way but then you have some who have no problem and are seemingly okay with it. The movie forces you to take a look and shows you that it is not something you should be okay with it. It is meant to make you uncomfortable. And boy, does it succeed. 


CGI/Set Design 

When I first started this section, I typed "The overall set design is not important." but I realised that I was wrong. This movie shows us in the first 10 minutes that this is not the romanticised version of Paris that we are used to seeing in movies and tv shows, Amy and Angelica live in a poorer part of Paris and this is important especially for Amy because it gives an insight into how she interacts with both the Cuties and her surroundings. This again goes back to the claustrophobic nature of her home compared to the city at large.

Score/Soundtrack 

I find that I'm saying "I didn't pay attention to the soundtrack/score." a lot in my reviews lately, but it's the truth. Even though the songs in this movie have a narrative function (they are the songs the girls dance to and are usually songs that reflect the dancing) I didn't pay much attention after the first few instances that they were used.

Overall Thoughts

Objectively, Cuties is not a bad movie, however, the message of the movie is what holds your attention. The main issue with the movie stems from the marketing, that and an out of context clip that floating around the internet has rubbed everyone the wrong way. And that was the point, the film is meant to highlight how young girls are sexualised, it is meant to make you feel uncomfortable. And while there is one scene in particular that goes too far with its message, it also does a great job of showing just how impressionable young girls are and how quickly they are forced to grow up. Especially black girls. 

It also does a good job of showing how one's religion and culture can cause them to feel stifled which in turn could lead them to act out. There is a lot of pressure placed on Amy even though she is an 11-year old girl. She is given all these rules and guidelines of how she is meant to live her life and by comparison, the Cuties look carefree which is appealing to her. That is why she takes to them, they are a complete 180 from the life she is being forced to live, and it's interesting watching her find a middle ground. 

Cuties gained traction last month for a poster distributed by Netlifx which shows the main characters in provocative poses. Here is the poster in question 

'Cuties'

Now compare it with the french theatrical poster


The two tell a very different story and I wish Netflix would have gone with the theatrical poster because it is a lot more telling of the movie's tone and visual style. 

I read an interview with Maïmouna Doucouré on Medium (and I encourage you to read it). Here is what she had to say about the movie and the imagery
 At their age, they’ve seen this kind of dance. Any child with a telephone can find these images on social media these days.
That is something that occurred to me while I was watching the movie, how real it was and how often what happens in the movie, happens in real life. Children, pre-teens and teens are shown images like this regularly and this movie shows how they can affect a young person and how quickly.

I wish this movie wasn't marketed the way it was, because I would have liked to see everyone's reaction without the negative connotation that has been attached to this movie. There is no reason for the director to get death threats over something that wasn't her fault. She made a thought-provoking movie that was made to make you feel uncomfortable and tackle a topic that isn't discussed as much. Here's a quote from a variety article about the movie
“The subject of ‘Cuties’ isn’t twerking; it’s children, especially poor and nonwhite children, who are deprived of the resources — the education, the emotional support, the open family discussion — to put sexualized media and pop culture into perspective,” he wrote. The film, according to Brody, tells the story of “a girl’s outrage at, and defiance of, a patriarchal order.”

That is an important distinction, and that is why context is important. Especially with movies that have such sensitive subject matter. Depiction doesn't always mean endorsement. It's arguable that some of the suggestiveness could have been toned down and should have because having 11-year old twerking and dancing suggestively doesn't work visually  (which I personally agree with) but here we are...

I'm not going to say run out and watch Cuties but if you want to know more about it, give it a watch.

I posted a commentary video on my Youtube Channel which you can watch here


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