Movie Review: Cuties (aka: The Pukening)

Hoooooooooooookaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy….. Um… Here we go, I guess? Welcome to my review of Cuties. God help me. *ponders to self what my new personal FBI guy is going to think about my search history, and hopes he REALLY likes anime memes and YouTube*

Lol, keep in mind: I am not a professional movie critic. I don’t look at movies and tv shows the same way a professional would, especially Film Festival movies. Lol, I think I’ve only ever liked one or two that I’ve seen. I’m sure there’s plenty of nuance I’m missing. So, again, take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Then again, Cuties appears to be *almost* universally hated, sooo… maybe I’m not alone.

The trailer song is actually a lot of fun, separate from the movie.
This was the original French movie poster, which Netflix switched to after public backlash. I’m not posting the original American poster.

Starring: Fathia Youssouf (Amy), Medina El Aidi-Azouni (Angelica), Esther Gohourou (Coumba), Ilanah Cami-Goursolas (Jess), Myriam Hamma (Yasmine)

Plot (taken from IMDb – fyi, this was NOT the original Netflix synopsis):

“Amy, an 11-year-old girl, joins a group of dancers named “the cuties” at school, and rapidly grows aware of her burgeoning femininity – upsetting her mother and her values in the process.”

Trailer:

Characters:

Fathia Youssouf (Amy) – An 11 year old girl who acts out by stealing things, and is immediately enraptured by the cuties for reasons beyond my understanding, considering all the cuties do is bully her and act like huge brats.

Medina El Aidi-Azouni (Angelica) – The only one of the cuties who’s in any way nice to Amy at the beginning. Kind of the leader of the cuties. Still has no problem turning on Amy the second Amy does something she doesn’t like.

Esther Gohourou (Coumba) – A member of the cuties who spontaneously becomes nicer to Amy once Amy starts acting more like them. And also turns on Amy at the drop of a hat.

Ilanah Cami-Goursolas (Jess) – Same as Coumba.

Myriam Hamma (Yasmine) – Same as Coumba, but temporarily gets kicked out of the group early on for revealing the cuties’ real age to an older boy on the internet who they were chatting with about whether or not he wanted to touch their boobs. Once Yasmine turned on the laptop’s camera, the boy didn’t want any part of it.

Review Fiery Soapbox Rant Wherein I Want To Call the FBI the Whole Damn Time:

Oof. Brace yourselves. I actually got a little pissed off watching this movie, as evidenced by my vocabulary slowly escalating into a hefty number of expletives by the time I’m done. You can probably even feel me shouting through the screen at times with my usage of all caps in a few places.

I’m not even sure I’m going to show any pictures from the movie, like I usually would.

You know what? Nope. Hard pass. There is no happiness here. Only chocolate cake and old-school Disney (not the new shit) to cleanse my palate.

So here’s what the movie is actually about, and the thought process of the person who created this festering turd of a movie. Maimouna Doucoure (forgive me, I’m so low tech I don’t know how to make my keyboard put the little accents where they go in her name) commented that she had seen a group of very young girls doing a sexually explicit dance in public, and it was normalized, and it shocked her, so she wanted to make this movie to bring attention to the issue.

Okie-dokie. Cool. Cool. Over-sexualization of children, and the lure of what they see online on social media, is a problem. Very true.

Netflix’s original synopsis: “Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”

Netflix’s current synopsis after being justifiably shat upon by the masses: “Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.”

….okay…. at least we no longer have “11” and “twerking” in the same sentence.

But what about the actual content of the film? I’ve read many movie and tv synopsis’ that do zero justice to the actual content. Not sure if it’s still the case, but last I checked, Netflix actually had Underworld in the horror category. If everyone in the movie was human, rather than vampires and werewolves, it would just basically be two rival factions going to war over a long-standing feud. So, in my opinion, pretty much mainly an action movie, right? Right. So, to be fair, mistakes have been made before. Perhaps this is all one big marketing misunderstanding?

There are parts where I see what people are saying about the director’s intentions. The older boys the cuties flirt with, and lie about their ages to, want nothing to do with them, and the cuties themselves say Amy went too far at one point. One of several times they turn on her and push her out of the group for not living up to their standards. Many of the adults in the film, especially at the final dance competition, show open disapproval for the way Amy and the cuties are dressed, and they way they’re dancing and behaving. Most of the audience at the competition are loudly booing.

Enter the zoomed in shots of undulating 11 year old chests, butts, and crotches with a questionably sparse amount of clothing to cover. They bite their fingertips while making faces at the camera that make me and my new FBI friend uncomfortable, and they grab their crotches during the competition. Amy takes a photo of her nude crotch (not shown, thank God) and posts it online. Amy gets out of trouble by giving a seductive stare to a fully grown man and shaking her butt for him while he OPENLY OGLES her. It almost looks like she’s attempting to seduce her own uncle at one point, slowly beginning to take off her clothes, so she can keep the phone she stole from him at the beginning of the movie, but luckily he wants no part of that. There’s an icky-feeling exorcism scene, where Amy twitches and twerks in her underwear in front of her mom and aunt. You see an actual 11 year old’s bare breast in one scene, if what I’ve read is true.

My new FBI guy agrees.

But supposedly that’s all totally cool because by the end of the movie, Amy, completely out of nowhere, discovers that she’s on the wrong path, cries because some wedding confetti from home falls out of her hair during the dance competition, and tries to reclaim some of her innocence by just being a kid again, wearing regular clothing and jumping rope in the final scene.

I mean, it’s not as if they could have handled the filming a totally different way in order to make the point they were allegedly trying to make. You know, without ACTUALLY exploiting and over-sexualizing children in the process of trying to expose child exploitation and over-sexualization.

So, how the hell did I get here?

In my current hermit lifestyle, I spend A LOT of time on YouTube, and lately there has been a lot of commotion about this movie on Netflix. And I thought to myself: “Self, you have free time. You love movies. You’re very curious about the controversy. And your husband is willing to grab you chocolate recovery cake if the movie is, in fact, as bad as many say it is. Why not?”

I’ll tell you why not: It’s still hard to get my hands on Lysol wipes in my area, which makes it rather difficult to sanitize my eyeballs after this debacle.

Now, as I said above, I’ve heard the argument that this movie is actually a commentary on how bad child over-sexualization is. That it’s supposed to bring attention to the over-sexualization and exploitation of children, and criticize it. And I can see in certain scenes that an attempt was made.

If that’s the case, however, did they think using shock value was an appropriate way to do that? Were they going for gross out factor? Who sat in a room and thought to themselves, “ya know, I think we’ve really got a story to tell here, but rather than using any kind of tact or subtlety, let’s just give the audience unnecessarily long close-ups of 11 year olds in inappropriate positions and clothing, mimicking fully grown women in sexually explicit music videos.” Multiple people had to okay this idea for it to move forward.

I’ve also heard 600 or 700 11 year old girls sent in audition videos for this, which means 600 or 700 parents read the script, or at least the damn synopsis, and then filmed their little girls dancing provocatively, knowing the recordings would go off to a room full of strangers to review.

There is absolutely a conversation to be had about the over-sexualization of children, what they’re exposed to and at what age, and what kind of influence social media has on them. Kids are going to see and hear things from the internet, current entertainment, and their peers. There’s no getting around it.

You also don’t want kids to be so sheltered that they’re unprepared for the world. Sure. Makes sense. Ultimately parents will decide how and when to handle these topics with their kids.

But where is the line in “entertainment” (I use the term really damn loosely) like this? Or, rather, WHY DOESN’T THERE APPEAR TO BE A DAMN LINE HERE?! Why did no one in the editing department say, “hey, uh… guys… my eyes are bleeding. Maybe we should re-think our approach with some actual tact.”

There’s also an issue with child actors being cast to do explicit things. Linda Blair in The Exorcist, or I’ve heard some controversy about Dakota Fanning in Hounddog, Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver, and Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby, although I haven’t watched those last 3 myself. I don’t know how explicit those last 3 get, but Linda Blair in that scene with the cross was a bit much. And Brooke Shields was even in Playboy at 10 years old.

I don’t think I’d ever call myself a prude, or close-minded about sex or sexual topics in general. I read a very wide range of romance – from inspirational all the way to erotica – and although I don’t have the skill to write erotica, I do include multiple sex scenes in all of my own books. It’s not like I’m coming at this from the angle of being against the exploration of femininity and sexuality in movies and other forms of entertainment.

I’m also fully aware that kids do eventually start becoming interested in prospective romantic partners at some point as they mature. That’s natural. And I’ve seen it portrayed many times in teen movies. 10 Things I Hate About You, The Duff, A Walk To Remember, Drive Me Crazy, Empire Records, Twilight, etc. All of these touch on sex, relationships, coming of age, and/or transition into adulthood to varying degrees. Notice, none of the characters, or actors for that matter, are 11 years old. In fact, I’m pretty sure almost all of the characters are seniors, and half the actors were even in their early 20s when they played the roles.

American Pie comes to mind as one of the more raunchy movies. But the characters are all seniors in high school, and the content is handled and shot in a way to make you laugh rather than make you want to bleach your eyeballs.

But, to me at least, Cuties does not at all come across as a “coming of age” movie, as some have claimed. Nor is it a simple story of a young girl “exploring her femininity” by joining a “free-spirited dance crew.” Don’t get me wrong, any of those 3 things – coming of age, exploring femininity, and even a young, free-spirited dance crew – would be totally fine under other circumstances.

If they were handled with respect to the young actresses doing the dancing, and if any of this were filmed with more care.

I very, VERY firmly believe Cuties should have used more subtlety with the subject matter. As with horror, what you DON’T see can be much more effective, get across the point you’re trying to make, and also not put child actors through scenes they may not fully understand the repercussions or meanings of.

Take The Lady in White, for example. You see a glimpse of what happened to the little girl, and learn that there was a child serial killer in town. There’s a lot you can infer from what you do see of the girl’s murder, and although the young actress acts out a short death scene, the writers don’t feel the need to traumatize you with gorier details. Everybody knows how twisted things get with serial killers and anyone who preys on children. The fact that there were 11 other child victims you never see can send your brain to some dark possibilities.

Or the first Silent Hill movie. That is a dark and brutal movie, based on some equally disturbing video games. Although you hear what happens to the little girl in the movie, narrated by the actress who plays her, you aren’t forced to watch it and she isn’t forced to narrate explicit lines either. Your brain does all the work for you. So when the girl finds herself alone in a bathroom with a janitor staring at her creepily, you know exactly what is inferred by “Alessa was alone in the world. You know what can happen to little girls when they’re left alone.” Then you hear Alessa scream once. That’s all you need. Something horrendously disgusting is portrayed without putting the child actress, or the audience, through an actual visual depiction of assault. The directors know the audience is intelligent enough to pick up on what happened without mentally bludgeoning everybody. It’s the same for when Alessa is burned alive, allegedly to rid her of evil. You don’t see it happen. It isn’t necessary. Knowing, hearing Alessa screaming, and seeing the aftermath is more than enough.

Thank you to whoever decided to depict things that way. The whole story still gives me chills, and by the end of the movie I’m more than cool with all the guilty parties being ripped to shreds by razor wire. Have at it, Dark Alessa.

Or how about The Shack? All you see is a few blood stains and a red dress lying on the floor of the shack. The murder is not depicted in any way. Her father finding that dress, falling to his knees, and screaming out his anguish is gut-wrenching enough. That’s. All. You. Need.

Similarly, if they wanted to make an impactful statement on the over-sexualization of children, there are ways to tell the story of Cuties without using a damn zoom lens on 11 year old butts while they twerk and spread their legs…

…and dance routines (plural) where the group of 11 year old girls hump the air, the ground, and touch each others butts.

I rarely drop the f-bomb on my blog, instead preferring to use “Matrix 3” as my universal f-bomb, but HOLY FUCKING SHIT, PEOPLE. What were you thinking? This is not the film to get graphic with. If you want to shock people with eyefulls of extreme nasty, leave that for disembowelment in horror movies. Kindly fuck right off with the kid stuff please.

Perhaps I am the kind of prudish, buttoned-up to the chin, Bible thumper that will get a fit of the vapors at the sight of an uncovered ankle, but somehow mysteriously also loves the movie Secretary, and can enjoy THREE FUCKING FIFTY SHADES OF GREY MOVIES, while also condemning this particular shit-show of a movie.

Or maybe, just maybe, I know where the obvious line is.

I also watch copious amounts of anime, where I am occasionally blind-sided by unexpected fanservice to varying degrees of nudity and graphicness.

You could call my whole rant hypocrisy then, if you like, but here’s the thing. The big difference between these movies, and why I’m down with one and not the other: Secretary and Fifty Shades of Grey were movies about CONSENTING ADULTS, and acted out by CONSENTING ADULTS.

You still gotta be careful with anime though, I’m not going to lie. There are a lot of WTF moments in many animes.

And here’s the thing about coming of age movies: the main character actually has to show some growth.

At no point is Amy’s psychological well-being touched upon. She starts the movie stealing things, mainly from her own family, I’m assuming as a coping mechanism for what’s happening in her household. Her family is devoutly Muslim, and her father is taking a second wife, which her mom is having trouble with it. Amy seems to feel stifled by her family’s religious lifestyle, and she’s completely desperate throughout the entire movie, allowing the cuties to basically use her, up until that last dance scene, just so she can be the complete opposite of her family’s ideals. Seriously, I see almost no true friendship from any of the cuties towards Amy, except occasionally from Angelica, unless Amy is serving a purpose in their dance crew.

Amy is so desperate, in fact, that she pushes Yasmine into a river so she can take her place in the final competition. (The cuties only let Yasmine back in once Amy fell out of their good graces because of the crotch photo.) Amy literally stands there, watching, no intention of helping, as Yasmine nearly drowns because she can’t swim. The only reason Yasmine doesn’t die is because there’s something nearby for her to grab.

Awesome. Theft and attempted homicide. Why would any part of Amy’s mindset need explored in this touching “coming of age” movie?

Never mind any potential growth in the cuties. They all have issues, and parents you never see who let them go to school looking like Julia Roberts at the beginning of Pretty Woman.

I feel like she’s saying, “dude, leave me out of this.” Also, she was an adult playing an adult character.

And then it’s very briefly alluded to that Yasmine may be struggling with bulimia when she returns to the cuties after Amy’s excommunication from the group.

At no point is any of this addressed in a meaningful way. Amy just has her cry, and then, with her mother’s blessing, is given the option of going to her father’s second wedding or not. You see both the cuties competition outfit and the formal Senegalese dress laying on her bed. Ultimately, she chooses neither, skips the wedding, and goes outside in jeans and long-sleeve shirt. And then she’s just smiling, seemingly completely happy, as she jumps rope, as if the past 90 minutes didn’t happen.

20 years in the future, adult Amy is going to end up in a situation like Fatal Attraction, where she’s some version of Glenn Close’s character.

Neither is it addressed that the cuties are still such blood-thirsty brats at the end, having dealt with none of their own issues, that they will probably shank Amy for her betrayal of running off stage during the final dance scene.

I’m telling you. There’s homicide in this movie. They just don’t show it.

Although I see where they may have intended to be going with all this, I really think they missed the mark. They also wasted an opportunity to effectively tackle an issue that DOES need talked about.

Also ~ hiding in some dark corners of the world, there is a certain demographic (hopefully on the FBI watch list), who happen to love this movie. According to what I’ve read and seen on YouTube from some self-admitted MAPS (don’t even get me started), bad people don’t need any help finding kids to creep on. So could we please use a little more discretion and common sense with this kind of content?

My rating for Cuties: Emergency Cake – No. Just no. If you find yourself morbidly curious, with extra time on your hands, and want to see what all the yelling and cussing is about, help thyself, lol. Honestly, with controversial content like this, it’s good to investigate and form your own opinion. I don’t want to sound like the content police or anything, and I do believe in freedom of speech and artistic liberty, but I truly think this is neither of those things, and you may just end up pissed off, grossed out, or both.

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My Rating System:

Epic: This movie is so mind-bogglingly awesome that I may go see it twice. This one will have a place of honor on my shelf.

Cash-Worthy: Good stuff. This will most likely find a place on my shelf.

Not Bad: I liked it. I’m glad I saw it, and it may or may not end up on my shelf at some point. I would say rent it first to be safe.

Meh: Rent it first. You may love it or hate it, but I’m indifferent probably because it’s not my type of movie. I’m glad I saw it, but it won’t end up on my shelf.

Emergency Cake: I have an emotional reaction to movies sometimes, especially to tragedies. If a movie makes me sad or angry, sometimes it will stick with me for a while. At these times, only chocolate cake can save me. Chocolate cake makes everything better. No shelf for you. Ever.

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5 thoughts on “Movie Review: Cuties (aka: The Pukening)

  1. Thanks for the review. This is the first I’d heard of the film. Definitely sounds like one to avoid for my own sanity and peace of mind!

    • paigeaddams says:

      Lol, I don’t blame you! My curiosity got the best of me, considering all that I’d heard, and I’d been hoping it wasn’t that bad, but man. That was suuuuper uncomfortable and inappropriate. Lol, I’m going to make sure to review something fun next. 😀

  2. disperser says:

    I’m cleaning my inbox and came across this post I missed . . .

    Aside from the fact it’s not an action movie and hence not worth my time, I never even considered watching this movie. I think it crossed my radar when i read some article on it (a middle of the road article), but even then, It didn’t occur to me to “check it out” any more than I would watch “Grapes of Wrath” or “Pride and Prejudice” . . . basically, I have zero interest in it.

    However, having read your review, I’m now tempted to see for myself just how much of a turdfest it is . . .

    Yes, I’m kidding.

    I get uncomfotable and question the moral character of Japanese men over the issue of fan service, and was uncomfortable enough with Leon’s and Matilda’s relationship in The Professional, and nothing actually happens there (plus, I don’t like the actress), so I’m glad I ignored this movie the same way I ignore all non-action-and-without-mindless-blowing-away-of-bad-guys movies. Even more so based on what you describe.

    That article I mentioned in the beginning (and why I read it) mentioned Netflix lost subscribers over that movie.

    But, that is just a movie . . . if you really want to get mad . . .
    https://samharris.org/podcasts/213-worst-epidemic/

  3. Out of all the messed up stuff that happened in this movie, the thing that gets me the most is how Amy almost killing Yasmine is completely glossed over. Like, imagine almost committing manslaughter when you’re eleven years old because you wanted to twerk onstage that badly. And what makes it even better is that that’s not even the thing that causes her to realize she’s gone too far – that would be her skipping out on her father’s wedding. Amy disappointing her family is officially a much greater priority to her than almost killing one of her classmates. No wonder she fit in so well with the other self-involved Cuties.

    • paigeaddams says:

      I know what you mean! I don’t know if the actress was badly directed in that scene, or if they really meant for her to just stand there and calmly stare at a drowning former “friend” with a completely straight face. They way it looked to me, Amy had no intention of helping Yasmine at all, so I was starting to feel some serial killer vibes from Amy, lol. That was one of many reasons I really wanted them to at some point address the main character’s mental health and emotional growth, but sadly they never did, and I was just left feeling like she had become colder and more emotionally detached from her actions since the beginning of the movie.

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