The Netflix original that’s breaking the internet doesn’t have much to offer

Courtesy of Netflix

“Cuties” is the new Netflix film that has stirred controversy over its sexualization of young girls

“Cuties” (or its native French title, “Mignonnes”) is a film that does not quite live up to its infamous reputation as an exploitative coming-of-age flick, while at the same time does not do much to make a name for itself in the indie film collective consciousness.

The film tells the story of 11-year-old Amy (Fathia Youssouf). Under the rule of her mother, modesty and piety are taught to hold the highest virtues a young girl can have. But after meeting some girls in her new school, she quickly starts to believe that fulfillment comes by way of validation through social media. She immerses herself in the world of dance, which ultimately morphs her into something unrecognizable from who she was at the start of the film.

As a directorial debut for Maïmouna Doucouré, it could have been much worse. Her camerawork is competent, and the entire film has a color palette that feels natural while still having a strong presence.

Directing a film with a majority child cast will never be easy, but Doucouré pulls it off for the most part. None of the acting in the film was bad, but the script at times made the children feel like caricatures of themselves when set against the bleak backdrop. Some of the characters come off as cliché and archetypal, but it rarely becomes distracting.

There has been an air of taboo surrounding this movie before it was even released to the public. The controversy revolves around the dancing scenes, which are often extremely suggestive. 

Throughout the film, it is made painfully obvious that the filmmakers know the dancing these 11-year-olds are doing is not appropriate.

It is, admittedly, fairly uncomfortable to watch. The camera does have a tendency to linger for a half-second longer than it should. It is also worth noting that 90% of the dancing in this film is on par for what is expected for girls in competitive dance around their age. The filmmakers, again, probably know this and played it up for the sake of sending a message.

With all of this being said, it is understandable for  someone to be disgusted at the idea of watching this film. At its core, “Cuties” still contains content that is legitimately disturbing for many people. To some, the idea of watching a film where girls are dancing the way they do is reprehensible, and those feelings in this case are justified.

The themes of social media’s influence and hypersexualization of children throughout the film are made very clear, but are conveyed in ways that leave very little room for interpretation. The motivations and characterization is spoon-fed to the viewer, resulting in some fairly surface level storytelling that feels a dime a dozen by this point. It was never difficult to be two steps ahead of the plot.

“Cuties,” at the end of the day, is just another coming-of-age story. If it didn’t have the controversy surrounding it, there would be little to discuss in terms of what it does differently.

Rating: 2.5/5
Thomas Stremfel can be reached at [email protected] or @tomstremfel on Twitter.