A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cuties is a controversial French film (with English subtitles in the United States) that takes on the difficult topic of how young girls are influenced by society's sexualizing of women in a way that teens can learn from. That said, the movie's unflinchingly candid treatment of its subject could turn off some viewers and leave others feeling sad or even anxious. The tween girl characters' suggestive dance moves are filmed up close, and they dress in skimpy clothes and talk about sex and rape -- albeit with some misconceptions that reveal their actual innocence, as does a scene where one girl plays with a condom from the ground in a park without knowing what it is. The lead character, Amy (Fathia Youssouf), will do just about anything to fit in. She's pushed into a boys' bathroom to try to film a classmate peeing, and her girlfriends flirt with boys online, offering to let one touch a "boob." To try to compensate for the embarrassment of having her underpants photographed and shared publicly after losing a fight, Amy posts a photo of her private parts on social media. Her friends tell her she went too far, and a classmate calls her a "slut." She starts to undress for a grown man, presumably in exchange for his phone, which he caught her stealing. The girls sometimes put themselves in potential danger, but the film ends on a cautiously optimistic note. It also offers a glimpse into the lives of Senegalese and other immigrant communities living in housing blocks in Paris. Language includes "hell," "s--t," "bulls--t," "loser," "stupid," "bitches," "f--k," "damn," "boobs," and "slut."
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What's the story?
CUTIES centers on Amy (a magnetic Fathia Youssouf), who comes from a traditional Senegalese family. She's just moved into a new apartment in Paris with her mom (Maïmouna Gueye) and two brothers. They're awaiting the arrival of Amy's father -- and, it turns out, his soon-to-be second wife. When Amy sees a neighbor girl her age, Angie (Médina El Aidi-Azouni), dancing suggestively in the apartment building laundry room, Amy is intrigued by how different Angie's life seems to be from her own. Amy starts spying on Angie's group of friends, which goes by the name "the Cuties," as they get in trouble at school and practice a sexy dance routine in an abandoned area after school. Amy and Angie become friends, and Amy slowly joins the group. She learns the girls' dance routine for an upcoming competition and adds new and even racier moves based on videos she finds online. Slowly, Amy begins adapting new manners and styles to fit in, all of which she tries out on social media. But it seems that the closer she gets with the girls, the farther she feels removed from her traditional upbringing and community. Her father's upcoming wedding and the dress he sent her for the occasion are symbolic reminders of how much things are changing in Amy's life. When Amy takes things a step too far, she finds herself on the outside of her family, her community, and her new friend group, and she'll have to figure out what her path forward will be.
Is it any good?
Senegalese-French director Maïmouna Doucouré has created an evocative, compassionate portrait of young girls finding their identity and values in this controversial film. In the hands of a less capable director, Cuties could easily have felt exploitative of its child actors, something the film was accused of in an initial (and controversial) marketing campaign in the United States. Doucouré films the girls close up as they move their bodies in a sensual way and strike suggestive poses in halter tops, short-shorts, and excessive makeup. But she offers these scenes precisely in order to shock, because they should be shocking. The public's reaction to the girls' final performance in the film reveals as much.
The subtlety is in the way Doucouré captures the young girls' innocence. Despite their poses, they're not exactly informed about sex. They regularly collapse into piles of giggles. Amy isn't truly trying to provoke; she just wants to fit in. That's where the context comes in: It's set in the multicultural Parisian exurbs, where Doucouré offers intriguing glimpses into the role of women in the Senegalese community. Amy is torn between the traditional values she's being taught at home and the draw of her new friends and culture. This feels both typical and an exceptionally perceptive portrayal of the plight of adolescence and the immigrant experience bundled into one. Some images will stick with you long after this film: Amy's symbolic wedding dress, her father's new bride shrouded in white, the girls' poses, and a beautiful closing scene of Amy bouncing back, literally, into her community and her childhood.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the role of the internet and social media in Cuties. Without these, do you think the girls would have the same ideas about sexuality or the same impulses to share intimate photos of themselves? Why, or why not? What are the dangers of sexting?
Have you ever done something you knew was wrong to fit in? How did you feel about it afterward?
How does the movie's Parisian setting compare to your own home, neighborhood, and school? Did you learn something about Senegalese culture from this film?
Do these characters feel authentic to you?
Do you enjoy watching movies made in other countries? Where can you find more?
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