Scrutinizing the impact of pervasive sexuality in the media on women’s self-image, “Sexy Baby” intercuts the stories of three females of different ages: a semi-retired stripper/porn star in her 30s, a bright New York tween and a twentysomething kindergarten teaching assistant desperate for a designer vagina. Unevenly structured, the segments differ greatly in length and relevance. Nevertheless, the rich paradoxes and remarkable ambivalences provided by the aforementioned tween, whose development the film most closely chronicles, could give “Baby” a bump in limited theatrical play and ancillary.Given shortest shrift of the three protags is Laura Castle, defined almost exclusively by her belief that happiness entirely depends on an expensive labiaplasty; her image of how she should look “down there” has been firmly ingrained due to the Internet porn her boyfriends peruse. Her mother, cluelessly supportive, accompanies her on successive stages of the procedure, graphically captured here by directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus (journalists making their docu debut). Male teens speak knowingly oncamera about their definitive, idealized visions of women’s genitalia, acquired without the benefit of any sexual experience. Nichole Romagna, a more interesting subject, teaches pole dancing to housewives and runs an agency for strippers with her husband. She offers insights into the influence of the Internet on the average women’s self-image, expounding on her firm belief that sexual media should target adults only, and that teens’ first encounters with sex should not be computer-enabled. But the fruits of her experience soon take a backseat to her and her hubby’s overriding desire for a baby, the film inexplicably veering off onto their obstacle-strewn road to parenthood. Bauer and Gradus follow the docu’s undisputed star, Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, from age 12 to 14, with mind-boggling changes marking every step of the way. Her progressive, amicably divorced parents prove almost equally compelling; indeed, the filmmakers would have been well advised to jettison the other segments and concentrate on this one. At 12, flat-chested Bonjean-Alpart dedicates herself to gymnastics, feminism and theater (the docu samples scenes from a feminist musical she wrote and stars in), interacting closely with her parents and displaying clear self-awareness. At 13, she dons a short, sexy black dress with fishnet stockings for her bat mitzvah; her mother, a criminal defense attorney sporting a “not guilty” tattoo, is similarly attired. A Lady Gaga concert at Madison Square Garden finds Bonjean-Alpart dressed in strapless top and abbreviated skirt, to her father’s growing consternation. Supposedly incidentally, the filmmakers also catch the teen’s much younger sister, Myrtle, mimicking erotic dances in the living room. By 14, Bonjean-Alpart spends a third of her time on the Internet; she gives up gymnastics and, in her newly busty incarnation, spends hours with her BFF, taking pictures in sexy poses to post online. The girl’s mind/body conflict unfolds with increasing drama as her libido and peer pressure pull her in one direction, while her analytic consciousness tugs her in another. Though the helmers resist superimposing text/graphics or using narration to push a particular viewpoint, the filmmaking never registers as objective.
A Two to Tangle production in association with Fork Films. Produced by Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus, Brittany Huckabee. Executive producer, Abigail E. Disney, Chandra Jesse. Co-producer, Daniel Raiffe. Directed by Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus.
Camera (color, HD), Gradus; editor, Brittany Huckabee; music, Paul Brill; sound, Jill Bauer, Margaret Crimmins, Greg Smith Reviewed at the Quad Cinema, New York, Oct. 21, 2012. Running time: 83 MIN.
Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, Jennifer Bonjean, Ken Alpart, Nichole Romagna, Dave Romagna, Laura Castle, Terry Castle, Dr. Bernard Stern.