What Sexy Baby lacks in the way of sophisticated filmmaking it compensates for with an earnest insistence on open dialogue. Drawing more on the concept of conversation rather than conclusion, directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus cleverly prompt questions related to the saturation of sex in our culture rather than draw judgments or peg scapegoats. Spanning generations, classes, and the East Coast, the doc focuses on three women: Winnifred, 12, a privileged New Yorker who belongs to an activist theater troupe; Laura, 22, an assistant kindergarten teacher planning to undergo labiaplasty; and Nichole, 32, a former porn star hoping to start a family with her husband. There’s a lopsided imbalance of time spent on each subject, with Winnifred’s life often taking center stage, but it’s thematically justified since she’s so deeply immersed in an environment in which the influence of sex in media on youth grows more complex as humanity and sexuality push further into the digital age.
Sexy Baby strives to be comprehensive but never digs beneath the depth of a B-grade undergraduate essay; thankfully, however, Bauer and Gradus aren’t purely focused on making grand sweeping statements on its admittedly broad topic. Interviews with the two older subjects result in interpretations that would sound stale to anyone who’s ever seen a cable television documentary on sex and media (Nichole elucidates on the use of sex as a tool of power for women and the obvious differences between porn sex and real sex, while Laura explains how plastic surgery will boost her self-esteem), but Sexy Baby provides acute insight when taking the position of pure observation, particularly in the realm of technology.
Winnifred is a startling example of the twofold impression that media and social networking can have on a contemporary tween, since she’s so apparently savvy, self-aware, articulate, and well-adjusted; her strong support system includes an Eve Ensler-quoting mother and self-described feminist father, yet Winnifred still often succumbs to the pernicious allure of posting inappropriate photo shoots of herself and friends on Facebook. Sexy Baby is much less successful when using a transitional device of brief, and blasé, interviews with other young men and women interspersed throughout. Winnifred already functions well enough as a microcosm of her generation, and when she claims, “We are the pioneers,” in relation to sexual responsibility and representation in our cyber age, it strikes the appropriate balance between excitement and dread.