Cuties (2020)

Where as a lot of teen movies focus much on the coming of age and rites of passage for young men through their sexuality, “Cuties” is ballsy enough to be cut from the same cloth. It’s a film that explores almost the same themes but in a more complex arena that’s based around femininity and growing up. While the silly ballyhoo around “Cuties” has been much ado about nothing, “Cuties” is a bold, important drama comedy. It’s ultimately about a young girl who is trying to figure out what kind of woman she wants to be, and never realizing that either route she chooses in life is going to be filled with obstacles, tough questions, and ultimately living with the path she’s chosen.

Ami (or Amy) is the eldest daughter of a Senegalese family living in Paris, must help her mother, Miriam around the apartment with mundane tasks like watching her younger siblings, going out for supplies, and cleaning messes. Miriam learns that her husband has taken a new wife, and Amy is reluctantly swept up in the preparation for their wedding. Amy begins to admire a dance group at school who call themselves Cuties—Angelica (Medina El Aidi), Coumba (Esther Gohourou), Jess (Ilanah Cami-Goursolas) and Yasmine (Myriam Hamma)—and tries to join their ranks.

Much of “Cuties” criticism has been based around its alleged exploitation of young girls, but as Monica Castillo explains (which I agree with) “depiction doesn’t equal endorsement.” The film “Cuties” features four young girls anxious to be adults, never quite understanding what they’re ever really doing, or what dark paths they’re setting themselves on. Primarily Amy is living in a world that’s been already carved out before her. She’s already looking after her little brother, and plays mother to her siblings. Meanwhile she watches her mother’s marriage to her dad crumbling before her very eyes as she has to not only accepts he’s married someone else, but is intruding in to their already complicated lives. Amy basically thinks the paths pursued by her new group of friends are the correct one as she views their immaturity as independence and liberation.

She’s woefully misguided, as she spends much more time with them discovering how broken and confused they are and often tend to be. Sure they wear clinging clothing and throw themselves at high school guys, but they’re barely able to look after one small child for a few hours. Not only are they woefully oblivious to the meaning of their actions, but also of the responsibility and fall out that will come with their intentions. Director Maïmouna Doucouré spends a lot of time on the girls and how they perceive mimicking what they see on social networking sites as some sense of liberation and growing in to adulthood. The all encompassing message becomes clear that these are young girls without a sense of culture or guidance and are doomed to fall in to some terrible trouble.

This clear message becomes painfully apparent with Amy and Angelica’s blossoming friendship, as she witnesses firsthand how much Angelica is at the mercy of two domineering men that never seem to relent in tormenting her. Amy is facing circumstances with a self loathing mother, and religion she doesn’t understand, and the more delves in to the journey with her friends, she has a harder time resolving as to where she stands, if anywhere, in her world. Is she ever going to stop working toward other peoples’ expectations? When will she ever work toward her own goals and ambitions? “Cuties” is a bold, heartbreaking, and fascinating mix of drama and comedy in the same ilk of “Thirteen” and “Our Song.” It confronts difficult themes about how the young are expected to grow up almost immediately, and how sexuality has replaced true honorable feats of maturity and coming of age.

Give it a chance before you shun it.

Streaming Exclusively on Netflix.