Sincere in intent but cursory in execution, “Very Young Girls” is undeniably arresting because of its subject matter, yet ultimately unsatisfying because of documaker David Schisgall’s ill-focused approach to his material. Reviews will be mixed, but fest exposure and nontheatrical playdates may raise awareness for the pic’s ultimate premiere on the Showtime cable network.
Intended as an antidote to glamorized depictions of prostitution that often appear in pop culture, doc repeatedly emphasizes that the average age for girls pressed into “the life” in the U.S. is 13. Unfortunately, this disturbing factoid isn’t quite as shocking as Schisgall obviously intends — indeed, it’s regrettably familiar to anyone who watches local TV newscasts during sweeps months — and “Very Young Girls” simply doesn’t dig deep enough to generate fresh outrage.
Schisgall and his collaborators offer some compelling interviews with several teens who are trying to escape their control-freakish pimps and start new lives. As pic proceeds, some succeed, some don’t — and all, unfortunately, come off as fuzzily defined case studies.
New York activist Rachel Lloyd provides shelter and support for exploited girls with her Girls Educational and Mentoring Service (GEMS) organization. But while she earns aud respect with her tireless work, Lloyd, too, remains a sketchy figure. Inexplicably, there’s very little examination of what presumably is Lloyd’s prime motivation: her own experiences as a prostitute. On the other hand, Lloyd does manage a well-aimed jab at the swaggering misogyny inherent in the lyrics of the Oscar-winning “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”
Schisgall might have done well to reveal more about fewer subjects. To his credit, though, he makes inspired use of police-confiscated videos shot by two self-aggrandizing pimps brothers Anthony and Chris Griffith — who documented their day-to-day activities in the hope of becoming stars in their very own reality TV show. Their casual brutality, revealed sporadically in clips scattered throughout the pic, is far more illuminating than any number of talking-head interviews.
Tech values are standard for docs of this sort.