Viewers get to see Brooke Shields’ face and body from every angle during the two hours and thirteen minutes that make up Beautiful Baby: Brooke Shields, a brand-new two-part ABC News documentary that is currently available on Hulu. Several images from her lengthy career as a model and actress are available, including shots of her promoting fitness equipment, appearing on magazine covers, appearing in films, and giving interviews.
This woman has never experienced life apart from the spotlight. Shields’ life story is meticulously outlined in Pretty Baby for those who are unfamiliar. Teri, a former model who managed Brooke’s career but struggled with alcoholism, raised her alone. When she was just 11 months old, Brooke landed her first modeling job for an Ivory soap commercial.
She swiftly rose to the position of family breadwinner and became a symbol of traditional American beauty. At age 10, she began traveling the talk show circuit, and at age 16, Time magazine dubbed her the face of the 1980s. Since then, she has gained notoriety and has been scrutinized, adored, and despised.
Brooke Shields is anxious to contribute more than just her good looks now that Beautiful Baby provides her the chance to reclaim control of her story. She was only a gorgeous face for the entirety of Shields’ life. “Continually, repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly. And that has always burned me.
Nevertheless, Lana Wilson, who previously directed the 2020 Taylor Swift documentary, Miss Americana, never entirely handles a hard issue in Beautiful Baby. Even while it strongly opposes objectifying its topic, its never-ending flood of gorgeous visuals has an indisputable aesthetic impact that interferes with logic.
“When Ms. Shields’s image appears on the screen, it’s almost impossible to turn away,” Rhonda Garelick wrote for the New York Times. Shields’ youthful beauty is used to captivate audiences even as Beautiful Baby aims to reveal the person behind the sex symbol, reinforcing the parameters of her value.
Isn’t she lovely, the documentary appears to be asking. She deserves better than this, doesn’t she? The documentary’s internal contradictions are most obvious during the section about the 1980 movie Blue Lagoon, which starred Shields as a 14-year-old damsel trapped on a tropical island with her cousin.
Cultural analyst Jeffrey Alexander explains the appeal of the movie in between nude pictures of Shields and her co-star Christopher Atkins, who was 18 at the time, swimming, play fighting, and kissing. “The audience may have sensual ideas about somebody who’s extremely underage,” he says.
Although simultaneously experiencing the transgression, they were unable to recognize it. Shields’ youthful beauty is used to captivate audiences even as Beautiful Baby aims to reveal the person behind the sex symbol, reinforcing the parameters of her value.
Beautiful Baby offers the same appeal as Blue Lagoon previously did: delivering transgression and distance from the transgression at the same time. Yet, intercutting portions from the movie with criticism of it doesn’t make it less sexually explicit.
In terms of visuals, the documentary exalts in the beauty and seductiveness of a young, trim, naked Shields, but in terms of language, it avoids the apparent and unsettling fact that the clips are suggestive. It swings back and forth between snippets of grinning youngsters from the 1980s discussing the movie’s appeal: “I enjoyed it because I had a vibrant imagination,” smirks one.
Another person says euphemistically, “It teaches a lot of things. Self-shielding avoids the problem. Although she doesn’t clarify how, which is pornographic, she claims that “Blue Lagoon was one of the first movies that parents let their children view that had to do with coming of age, loss of virginity, sexuality in that sense.”
Shields doesn’t have to explicitly reenact her own sexualization, but the documentary’s self-abnegation keeps it from posing more difficult questions. Shields’ real-life sexual awakening and loss of virginity are depicted in Pretty Baby, which also discusses how Blue Lagoon director Randal Kleiser attempted to sell the film as “a reality show.”
However, Pretty Baby fails to connect this repulsive anecdote to a larger pattern of older men claiming ownership over Shields’ sexuality. While Shields does discuss in detail her experience with sexual assault later on in the documentary, in a section that is handled wonderfully and delicately, elsewhere, she seemed determined to put on a nice front.
She describes a struggle she went through when, at age 16, her mother sued photographer and family friend Garry Gross to stop him from publishing nude images he shot of Shields when she was 9 years old. She says, logically, “It was so upsetting to me… Why did you subject me to that?
It’s a very tame appraisal of the scenario, but it reveals the documentary’s core purpose, which is to give Shields control over her narrative in a circumstance where she has so frequently lacked it rather than to analyze Shields’s public persona via a feminist perspective.