Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields movie review (2023)

That’s a comment on the perspective of the movie and the filmmakers. But what was it like for a fifth-grade girl to play that role? To have a camera pointed at her as she had her first sexual kiss, with an adult male actor? What was it like to have the parent a child needs for protection and guidance put her in that position? What was it like to have that parent be both endlessly controlling and needy? That is the subject of the documentary, as Shields describes her years of compartmentalization, obedience, disconnection from her body, her feelings, her voice, and how she slowly found herself. “If you’re the object of someone else’s desire, where are your feelings in all of that?”

The line between celebrities and their fans is blurred with reality TV, fame through social media, and show business personalities branching out into lifestyle brands. The term “parasocial” describes how fans feel invited into the lives of people who, in other generations, would have been appealing partly because they were unapproachable.

In four days this week, I saw three documentaries about some of the most documented lives of the 1960s-90s, both as performers and, often less flatteringly, as celebrities: Brooke Shields, Michael J. Fox, and John Lennon. As we begin to look back on the lives of the influential and interesting of the mid-to-late 20th century, documentarians have vastly more images to draw from. We can only imagine what we will see when we start telling the stories of people in the post-social media era.

While the Michael J. Fox film “Still” is the most innovative, all three films use images and archival clips to underscore, illuminate, complement, and comment on the real-life story. Here they recontextualize as well. No one who sees this film will ever be able to—or even want to—watch the Malle drama it addresses by reclaiming its title. The same goes for “The Blue Lagoon” and “Endless Love,” two other highly sexualized roles. The clips of Shields as herself, or at least the self she presented to the world on talk shows, are also hard to watch because the questions are so often insensitive or downright offensive.