So the Internet is aflame, and who has two thumbs and a Netflix subscription? That's right, moi. I fell for it. I took the bait. I had to see for myself.
I watched Cuties, so you don't have to.
I'm now pretty sure that like most moral panics over media, this thing set off a little spark of indignation to which the network said, "Sure, let's fan that flame! Ka-ching$$$$!"
My verdict? The outraged critics and the fawning defenders are both engaged in orchestrated performative BS.
First of all, Cuties is a French movie. Have you ever seen a French movie? "Cinéma" is French for "boring."
Really. There's about ten minutes total of cringe-inducing tween twerking (I'll get to that), and the rest is your basic "Outsider girl wants to fit in with the cool kids, and has family drama." So she's from a strict religious family, she sees some classmates doing sexy dance moves practicing for a big contest, there's a bunch of stupid tween girl drama that made me want to bash my head against a wall omg-will-it-just-end? And in the climax they do the big dance number and she runs home and realizes she's still a kid and still part of her culture but she can also be her own self, tearful reconciliation with Mom, and then she goes jump-roping, The End.
Yeah, that's how sophisticated it is. See that HEARTFELT moral? That is the literal ending — she hugs it out with her mother, then changes out of her booty shorts and goes jump-roping. So symbolic, so deep, so meaningful!
Cuties is about as spicy as an ABC After School Special, except with condoms and twerking.
Okay. *le sigh* About the twerking.
Yes, it's really uncomfortable to watch. There are several dance sequences, including a couple of extended routines, that are responsible for all the outrage. These 11-year-old girls are totally doing stripper moves, and frankly, anyone who isn't creeped out by it probably shouldn't be left around kids.
Now, there's a lot of debate about the director's intent. This is familiar to anyone who's ever read a controversial book and gotten into arguments about authorial intent. Does it actually matter what message the creator intended to send, if it's drowned out by the message the audience actually sees? The story the movie tells is pretty clearly supposed to be "Children exposed to adult media are being sexualized at a young age." It's made obvious even while they're humping the stage and making jerk-off motions that these little girls don't really understand what they're doing.
That said, telling a story about how sexualizing children is bad by... sexualizing children... is bad. And this movie totally sexualizes children. There are lingering close-ups of pre-teen T&A that seem meant to make the audience cringe. Making a point by being gratuitous, until your point is indistinguishable from unironic portrayal, is very French. It may not be quite as bad as the performative outrage would have you believe ("child porn" my ass, Ted Cruz), but it's bad enough.
So ultimately, Cuties is a rather dull artsy-fartsy movie that solicits attention by trying to play like it's being all Nabokov, but really has no appeal to anyone except pretentious auteurs (i.e., people with no taste) and, uh, pedophiles I guess.