Pretty Baby (1978)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Erotic Drama, Period Film  |   Run Time - 109 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Michael Costello

Louis Malle's film on the world of child prostitution is notably slack and uninvolving despite its controversial subject. Brooke Shields stars as Violet, the daughter of prostitute Hattie (Susan Sarandon), who is raised in a brothel in turn-of-the-century New Orleans' Storyville, and decides to adopt her mother's profession. Malle, who successfully broached the subject of incest in Le Souffle au Coeur (1971), tries to pull off a similar feat here, but despite his attempt to make a much older man's sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl seem like a ho-hum alternative, he shies away from the issue by aestheticizing and muting the depiction of sex. Keith Carradine plays the essentially voyeuristic photographer Bellocq, whose attraction to the young girl is more contemplative than physical. There is little difference between his point of view and that of the film, and there is really no character for Shields to play, as Malle renders her as more object than subject. Viewers are left with the slow-moving spectacle of beautiful women lounging around their well-appointed workplace waiting for clients -- not particularly painful perhaps, but not too compelling either. That said, the film is beautifully photographed by Sven Nykvist, and for horror fans, cult actress Barbara Steele makes one of her last film appearances.