To Decadence With Love, Thanks for Everything (2020)

The very last in-person social event I attended before the COVID lockdowns hit New Orleans this March was a Joni Mitchell tribute show at the AllWays Lounge. Watching drag queens, burlesque performers, and other assorted weirdos pay homage to as unlikely of an icon as Joni Mitchell was a bizarre treat, especially by the time Krewe Divine member CeCe V. DeMenthe was doing Mitchell as Divine in a Female Trouble-inspired get-up late in the show. I very much miss going to local, avant-garde drag shows like that Joni Mitchell tribute, most of which are anchored to the AllWays Lounge and the surrounding bars on St. Claude Ave. It’s a gaping, ever-widening hole in my social calendar that only became more glaring while watching To Decadence With Love, Thanks for Everything at this year’s (mostly) virtual New Orleans Film Festival.

To Decadence With Love is a local documentary that follows two exceptionally hard-working performers on the contemporary New Orleans drag scene: Franky and Laveau Contraire. Chronicling the two queens’ whirlwind of nonstop gigs over Southern Decadence weekend in 2019 (think Pride Weekend, only much sweatier), the film manages to capture a wide-ranging portrait of contemporary New Orleans drag over a shockingly short period of time. It’s amazing that Franky or Laveau had enough time to freshen their make-up or nap between gigs, much less talk to a documentary crew, but their guided tour of the city on a big moneymaker weekend is continually engaged & energetic. I don’t know that it fully captures what I love about watching these two performers in particular (Franky’s attention-commanding crowdwork and Laveau’s tightrope walk between the traditional & the avant-garde, respectfully), but it certainly sketches out a bigger-picture portrait of the scene where their art is near omnipresent.

I’m most grateful for this documentary’s efforts to capture how drastically different the New Orleans drag scene is now vs. the traditional Southern Pageant Drag I remember growing up with here. While Franky and Laveau Contraire are the overworked tour guides at the center, they make sure to pull the audience by the hand through the performance-art oddities of fellow weirdos & New Orleans Drag Workshop alumni like Maryboy, Apostrophe, Tarah Cards, and Gayle King Kong – some of my very favorite local performers, all of whom I miss tossing sweaty dollar bills at in various cabarets around town. Laveau Contraire in particular is a perfect choice of narrator in deciphering what makes the modern scene here so distinct & worthy of archival documentation, as she is intimately familiar with the traditional Pageant scene that contrasts it (which is still around, and still entertaining on its own merits). The movie also just wouldn’t be complete without her no matter what, since she tirelessly works practically every show on the local calendar.

I don’t know that To Decadence With Love will have much of a life outside of The New Orleans Film Festival, despite winning the fest’s Jury prize for Best Louisiana Feature. I imagine that, at the very least, its music clearance logistics would be an absolute nightmare in terms of distribution, considering how much drag relies on pre-existing pop media. There also isn’t much to its formal approach that distinguishes it as a documentary, outside maybe the way it interviews rideshare drivers on the trips between shows with equal weight as if they were also drag queens (emphasizing their shared reliance on spontaneous gigs & tips). Still, it’s a smart, entertaining document of a hyper-specific pocket of contemporary New Orleans culture that deserves this kind of attention before it’s lost to time. I also personally found it bittersweet to see that scene so vibrantly alive just one year ago, considering how drably uneventful my 2020 social life has been without it.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #122 of The Swampflix Podcast: WCW World Heavyweight Champion David Arquette

Welcome to Episode #122 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Brandon, James, and Britnee revisit actor David Arquette’s two-week reign as WCW World Heavyweight Champion, a bizarre real-life story bookended by two disparate feature films: Ready to Rumble (2000) & You Cannot Kill David Arquette (2020). Enjoy!

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Podcast Crew

Undine (2020)

The last time I saw a movie in public with a live audience was The Invisible Man back in March of this year, at the start of the COVID-era lockdowns. I recently ended that drought eight months later at the New Orleans Film Festival, which included a few outdoor screenings among the virtual at-home viewing options that comprised most of this year’s fest. The projection was a little hazy, mostly due to the lights of passing cars and my own glasses fogging up from my mask. The mosquitoes were out, and they were thirsty. The movie was solidly Good, but not entirely My Thing. And yet I treasured every minute of the experience, if not only for the novelty of being part of a moviegoing audience again instead of watching everything alone on my couch. It felt like cinematic therapy, a necessary break in routine.

The movie that dragged me out of the safety of my home for a low-risk outdoor screening was Undine, Christian Petzold’s follow-up to the consecutive critical hits Phoenix & Transit. If Petzold has a particular calling card as a director (at least based on those two prior examples), it’s perhaps in the way he treats outlandish, high-concept premises with a delicate, sober hand. I probably should have known to temper my expectations for Undine, then, which on paper sounds like it’d be catered to my tastes but in practice is maybe a little too subtle & well-behaved to fully warm my heart. Its IMDb plot synopsis hints at an aquatic horror fairy tale: “Undine works as a historian lecturing on Berlin’s urban development. But when the man she loves leaves her, an ancient myth catches up with her. Undine has to kill the man who betrays her and return to the water.” Filtering that modernized Little Mermaid thriller premise through Petzold’s normalizing, prestige-cinema eyes, though, the movie somehow lands under the Breakup Drama umbrella instead.

I can’t imagine being the kind of person who watches the glammed-out disco horror musical The Lure and thinks “What if this was remade as a quiet, understated drama?,” but apparently that kind of person is out there. Meeting Petzold halfway on those terms, Undine is a smart small-scale romance, the exact kind of Adults Talking About Adult Issues filmmaking that has been abandoned by Hollywood movie studios and now only exists on the indie festival circuit. While it treats its fairy tale premise with a quiet, restrained sense of realism, the drama it seeks in the relationship dynamics at its core is both wryly funny and passionately heartfelt. It’s difficult to make sense of what all of its lengthy train rides & lectures on the urban planning of a reunited Berlin have to do with the aquatic-horror myth of its premise, but the breaking-up and falling-in-love cycles of its two opposing romance storylines are engaging enough to prop up those intellectual indulgences. The chemistry between actors Paula Beer (Undine) & Franz Rogowski (Undine’s next potential lover/victim) is especially potent & worthy of attention.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I probably would’ve been more enamored with this film if it were a little messier or a lot more over the top; that’s just not Petzold’s deal. Still, it’s easy to picture a dumber, less nuanced American remake of this exact screenplay (starring Nicole Kidman & Joaquin Phoenix as the central couple), and there’s no way it would be half as thematically rich or dramatically accomplished. Besides, American studio movies don’t offer many COVID-safe venues for public screenings right now, so I couldn’t have enjoyed the outdoor film fest experience that Undine had afforded me if it were a mainstream genre pic. I’m very thankful for that therapeutic break in pandemic-constricted routine, even if I overall found the film itself to be Good Not Great.

-Brandon Ledet

Bonus Features: Passion Fish (1992)

Our current Movie of the Month, John Sayles’s 1992 comfort-watch Passion Fish, is a Southern-fried melodrama about a Rude soap opera star whose career comes to a halt after a paralyzing car accident. It looks & acts like a Normie heartwarmer about a proud woman overcoming sudden adversity, but pulls it off with an unusually direct, vulgar bitterness that cuts through the bullshit. In particular, the way the film depicts its lead’s discomfort, rage, and gradual acceptance of her newfound disability & reliance on a wheelchair feels refreshingly honest & relatably human for a 90s-era VHS rental. As a result, most recommendations of further viewing for anyone who enjoyed Passion Fish probably should touch on its unusually frank depiction of newfound physical disability, which really does set it apart from other, more maudlin works in its genre.

Here are a few recommended titles if you loved our Movie of the Month and want to experience similar depictions of recognizably Real people venting relatable frustrations over their own physical disabilities.

Never Fear (1949)

You might be tempted to ask for a better directorial debut from actor-turned-auteur Ida Lupino than the 1949 sudden-illness weepie Never Fear, but it would be tough to ask for a more personal one. Lupino’s first credit as a director is a well-behaved but harrowing melodrama about polio, a disease that Lupino herself suffered early in her career as a young actor. In fact, it was being bedridden with polio (and losing some mobility in her leg and hand) that inspired Lupino to develop skills as a writer & a filmmaker in the first place, as it was a harsh realization that her career as an onscreen beauty was limited & impermanent. She explained in an interview, “I realized that my life and my courage and my hopes did not lie in my body. If that body was paralyzed, my brain could still work industriously . . . If I weren’t able to act, I would be able to write. Even if I weren’t able to use a pencil or typewriter, I could dictate.” Polio was too sensitive of a subject at the time of Never Fear‘s release and, thus, failed to make a splash at the box office, but Lupino fearlessly tackled it head on from a place of personal frustration & anguish that affords it cultural significance anyway.

A young dancer (Lupino regular Sally Forrest) has her career cut short by a rapidly onset case of polio that leaves her paralyzed. She gradually earns her mobility back through painful months of physical & emotional therapy, but in the meantime struggles to maintain the romance, career, and independence she knew before the disease left her unable to dance. There are about twenty minutes of puppy-love bliss shared between the dancer and her partner/choreographer before polio cuts their ambitions short. The remaining hour is a pitch-black tearjerker that threatens to break that blissful romance apart, both through the introduction of potential love interests inside & outside the hospital and through the protagonist’s self-pity that makes her believe she’s no longer worthy of her former beau’s love & devotion. The resulting film illustrates a complex, nuanced psychological portrait of someone bedridden with polio, one that arrived in theaters while the country was still suffering the darkest days of the epidemic.

Never Fear is a romantic melodrama in which Ida Lupino pulls from her personal experience with polio to illustrate just how isolating & embittering the disease could be. It’s more or less a standard sudden-illness weepie, but it’s emotionally fearless in directly tackling its subject in a way that can be impressively horrific in flashes. It isn’t Lupino’s best work in the director’s chair, but it is a film with surprising emotional depth in her expressions of personal, professional anguish, which makes it a worthy watch for anyone interested in her one-of-a-kind career as one of the most substantial female directors in the Old Hollywood system. It’s also one of the few melodramas of its kind that matches Passion Fish‘s bullshit-free depictions of personal, internal conflicts over sudden physical disability.

Misery (1990)

If the bitter disability journeys of Passion Fish & Never Fear are too subtle or gentle for your liking, there’s always the Kathy Bates psychobiddy classic Misery. According to Steven King, Misery was written as a metaphor for his debilitating addiction to cocaine, which figuratively held him captive and forced him to write pulpy dreck far beneath his dignity as a Serious Artist. There’s likely some truth to that, but I do suspect King brandishes that anecdote at least somewhat to cover up the novel’s more obvious expressions of his open, seething contempt for his most enthusiastic fans. In the 1990 adaptation, Kathy Bates stars as a disgraced nurse who kidnaps her favorite pulp author after a blizzard-incited car crash and forces him to write novels that fit her headcanon instead of his own imagination. It’s a wonderfully blatant, literal depiction of the increasingly hostile relationships between artists & their audiences in recent years, where fans’ demands are too often allowed to dictate the work. It’s also, on the surface, a torturous body horror about a man held captive by a deranged medical professional who violently hobbles him to delay his recovery instead of working in his own interest.

In the opening sequence of Passion Fish, May-Alice is a big-city Soap Opera Star who’s frustrated that she relies on the whims & the capabilities of the small-town nurses hired to help her navigate her Louisiana bayou home. Things calm down once she finds an unlikely friendship with a nurse on her own wavelength, but that frustration over her reliance on another human being to accomplish mundane, daily tasks never really goes away. In Misery, a big-city Celebrity Author finds himself at the mercy of a small-town nurse who cares more about the fictional characters he creates than she does about his physical health (to put it mildly). Both films traffic in a warmly familiar 1990s mainstream filmmaking sensibility that sets expectations for a wholesome, safe viewing experience. Passion Fish cuts through that expectation with an unexpected vulgarity & bitterness as May-Alice becomes increasingly frustrated with her newly disabled body. James Caan goes through the same struggle as the Celebrity Author in Misery, except with a pronounced layer of traumatizingly gruesome body horror that even more drastically contradicts director Rob Reiner’s wholesome, mainstream sensibilities.

Weirdly, Misery also happens to employ an overqualified cinematographer in Barry Sonnenfeld, which mirrors Passion Fish‘s employment of industry legend Roger Deakins as its own DP.

The Intouchables (2011)

Maybe Misery‘s gory hyperviolence & Never Fear‘s Old Hollywood prestige are too fringe for a proper Passion Fish pairing. Maybe you just want to watch another by-the-books tearjerker that only strays from melodrama conventions by indulging in some occasional vulgarity. 2011’s The Intouchables isn’t exactly a great film the way Passion Fish is, but it does share some of its recognizable humanity that’s often missing from similar sudden-disability melodramas.

Based on a true story, The Intouchables chronicles an unlikely friendship between a paraplegic French aristocrat (who recently suffered a paragliding accident as part of his adrenaline seeking interest in X-Treme Sports) and the underqualified Senegalese ex-con he hires as his live-in caretaker (who only applied for the job as a ploy to remain on welfare). Although it arrived in theaters two decades after Passion Fish, it stumbles a lot more frequently in its own depiction of a budding friendship across race & class barriers (the Senegalese man is a pothead horndog criminal with no sense of public decorum, an often embarrassing line of humor). Still, there is a core sense of mutual respect & playfulness in their relationship that’s surprisingly endearing, especially in contrast to the long line of unsuitable, uptight, white caretakers who also interview for the job. The live-in caretaker is hired because he doesn’t look at his employer’s disability with any sense of pity or patronizing caution. His vulgar, casual demeanor cuts through the bullshit to allow them to meet on equal terms as human beings, even though one needs the other to accomplish most mundane tasks. The central friendship in Passion Fish is a lot more nuanced (and a lot less problematic in its race & class politics), but both movies share that vulgar, humanistic core.

I feel a little conflicted recommending a film I don’t wholly appreciate myself. The Intouchables alternates between charm & cringe so erratically that it’s difficult to be too enthusiastic about the positives when the whole ordeal is through. For perspective, then, it’s a good idea to follow up the film by watching the trailer for its recent American remake, starring Kevin Hart. It’s a quick way to appreciate how much worse the material could have been (and apparently was!) in even cruder hands.

-Brandon Ledet

The Giverny Document: Single Channel (2020)

The first feature I watched at this year’s virtual-edition New Orleans Film Fest was a 40-minute “experimental documentary” (read: essay film) about Black women’s cultural identity, a project that started as an art gallery instillation and an act of small-scale political protest. I gotta say, it felt nice to get back in the swing of things. The Giverny Document (Single Channel) is a little uneven & impenetrable in a way a lot of experimental art-project cinema can be, but its contextual positioning within a film festival environment made those qualities almost warmly familiar instead of cold or alienating. The Giverny Document packs a powerful emotional/political wallop when it feels like going for the jugular, but much of its runtime is a loose, dissociative experience that’s much more about puzzling through What It All Means than it is direct, clear messaging. As COVID has severely limited my access to film festival offerings of its kind this year, I found myself just as warmly nostalgic for this type of deliberately bewildering Art in general as I was affected by what this particular work was striving to say.

The Giverny Document is a conceptual art piece about Black women’s relationships with their own bodies and the meaning of “feeling safe.” These topics are clearly announced in plain dialogue & text so that the audience is at least grounded in terms of subject, even if the tools it explores that subject with are much more abstract. The “Single Channel” subtitle refers to the film’s nature as a synthesized work comprised of many smaller, disparate parts. In an art gallery setting, The Giverny Document is a three-screen instillation piece that simultaneously runs loops of multiple short films comprised of alternating, contrasting images: nature, police brutality, drone strikes, dancing, self-portraiture, etc. This distillation of that project combines all these opposing elements into a single montage, occasionally interrupted by people-on-the-street interviews fit for a local 1990s news broadcast and a stunning Nina Simone performance of the song “Feelings.” It’s a messy, provocative collage that attempts to make sense of the simultaneous, dizzying ways Black women occupy the world: from the personal & internal, to the globally political, to the spiritual & Natural. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a mere 40min stretch, which director Ja’Tovia Gary tackles by keeping its various thematic connections loose & poetic.

I don’t mean to contextualize The Giverny Document as A Film Festival Movie as a means of dismissing its artistic merits or political message. The film intentionally anchors itself to that Experimental Cinema niche by directly, cyclically referencing Stan Brakhage’s famous short Mothlight, which created a crudely beautiful form of animation by running actual insect wings through a film projector. This movie knows exactly what kind of Art World territory it’s trafficking in. It’s not all headscratching obfuscation, though. Often, the 90s-style news reporter will announce to potential interviewees that the movie is “about being a Black lady” to lure them in front of the camera, or police brutality footage will be interrupted by plain block text announcing “WE DON’T DESERVE THIS” as a direct plea for relief. Ja’Tovia Gary’s ambitious, poetic explorations of Black femme identity in both personal & political arenas is very much worth engaging with inside its own confines, which can alternate between disorienting & alarmingly direct the way its imagery alternates between Nature & culture. The experience just also made me consider how much I missed attending in-person film festivals over the past eight months of social distancing, since they’re one of the last places you can still encounter & enjoy this kind of Experimental Cinema provocation (outside the walls of an art gallery, at least).

-Brandon Ledet

The Assistant (2020)

Although it was released earlier this year, The Assistant feels like it’s from an entirely different cultural era. I missed its brief run in New Orleans theaters (despite being a big fan of Kitty Green’s previous film, Casting JonBenét) because it arrived during Mardi Gras season and looked like too much of a bummer to squeeze in between parties and parades. Looking back on that time now, the idea of attending parties and parades is an outlandish, alien concept, as I’ve spent the past eight months (almost immediately following Mardi Gras) avoiding crowds like the plague – literally. As a cultural moment, 2020 has defined almost entirely by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything from the presidential election to simple grocery store trips has been shaped by COVID in some way, to the point where I no longer recognize the cultural moment that birthed The Assistant. While we are currently living in the COVID era at the tail end of 2020, The Assistant is a film firmly rooted in the #MeToo era that was still very much at the forefront of public discourse at the start of this year. The entertainment industry and workplace culture at large have been violently disrupted by coronavirus outbreaks & safety protocols to the point where The Assistant feels like it’s a retro dispatch from a prehistoric world with its own distinct horrors & abuses. That world is not dead, though; it’s just quietly dormant, soon to return the minute we’re back to “Business As Usual.”

The Assistant is deliberately self-contextualized as a #MeToo era film. Julia Garner (who’s been due for a rise-to-fame breakout at least as far back as 2013’s Electrick Children) stars as a young, low-level assistant to A Harvey Weinstein Type. Her movie producer boss is a faceless, malevolent presence in the office, referenced only by “he/him” pronouns as if speaking his name would be blasphemous to his status as the office God. He is a well-known abuser of vulnerable young women looking to break into the movie industry, an “open secret” in the office that no one does anything about (beyond making jokes under their breath or strongly discouraging official HR complaints). New to the office, the extent to which her boss’s sexual abuses are known, tolerated, and enabled becomes starkly apparent to the disillusioned protagonist over the course of one spectacularly shitty workday. While the sexual abuse of these women is perpetrated by one clear villain at the top of the office hierarchy, he is largely absent from the screen; The Assistant is mostly concerned with the culture that fosters & enables the abuse rather than the physical act itself. It’s a cold, miserable examination of bystander complicity, implicating even its babyfaced protagonist for her own inaction in the face of a system designed to protect its own (as they exploit everyone else for sport).

While The Assistant is rooted specifically in #MeToo abuses within the entertainment industry, it also hits home as a generalized depiction of how demeaning & exploitative all office culture labor is even under the most mundane circumstances. Watching Garner clean up after her boss’s paper jams, children, half-eaten trash, and mysterious couch stains (*shudder*) is relatably grim to anyone who’s ever worked an 8-5 office job in any context. She’s a powerless twenty-something child who’s pressured from all sides to prop up an evil system with meaningless tasks that eat up her time & labor. It’s brutal to watch, even for just a quiet 78-minute stretch. It’s even relatable to the labor exploitations of the COVID era, which has dragged me back to performing mundane day-to-day work in an enclosed office environment despite an ongoing, worsening pandemic – just to maintain the pageantry of “Normalcy.” I don’t mean to imply that The Assistant is no longer relevant to the post-COVID world just because the #MeToo hashtag is no longer the #1 political issue currently at the top of our cultural priority list. It’s more that it now registers as a horrific reminder of what “Back to Normal” will look like once we get past this COVID lockdown disruption; it looks fucking grim.

-Brandon Ledet

Cuties (2020)

This summer’s flurry of internet outrage over the French coming-of-age drama Cuties completely derailed how I engage with movie discussions online. Once upon a time, Cuties was the kind of small festival-circuit indie drama that a few professional movie nerds would kick around on their Best of the Year recommendation lists and then promptly forget among the other thousands of docu-realist provocations just like it. Instead, its wide distribution through Netflix coincided with rabid QAnon conspiracy mania at the exact wrong time and it became the Bot Target of the week: a much-discussed but little-seen work that had been boiled down only to alarmist headlines & dogwhistles. By the time the film was available to the wide public, it was impossible to view it on its own terms, as it was already buried under a sea of preloaded online complaints – some legitimate (critiques of Netflix’s misrepresentative, Dance Moms-flavored marketing and its clichéd positioning of Muslim faith as a prison of Moral Conservatism) but most cruelly disingenuous (wild claims that it was “pedo-bait” that first-time director Maïmouna Doucouré should be jailed or even executed for creating, along with the entire entertainment industry at large). Excessive online discourse preceding any film’s release is already exhausting enough, but the sensationalist, death threat-generating controversies surrounding Cuties in particular shattered my spirit, to the point where I couldn’t engage with any of the bad-faith slander against it without becoming instantly apoplectic. It’s made me reluctant to discuss any movie with anyone outside the confines of this blog – yet another moment of social, cultural heartbreak in a year of never-ending grief.

Having now seen Cuties for myself long after the QAnon C.H.U.D.s have moved onto whatever arbitrary-target-of-the-week they’re currently bombarding, I wish I could say that there was nothing to the controversial uproar and that the movie was a harmless delight. I would love to claim that the most offensive part of watching the movie was when Netflix auto-played it with an English vocal dub instead of its original French-language audio track, then move onto calling it one of the year’s most misunderstood gems. That would be just as disingenuous as the film’s pre-release backlash (pre-lash?), though. The truth is that Cuties is an intensely uncomfortable watch; it’s just uncomfortable in the exact opposite way than what its most ghoulish detractors report. This is a film in which young children obsessed with hip-hop dance squad pageantry mimic & weaponize an adult realm of sexuality that they don’t yet fully understand. They twerk & grind in skimpy Fly Girl outfits as a kind of rebellious provocation, an insistence on prematurely growing up to escape the constrictions on personal freedom that frustrate every child. However, the only way these dramatizations of deliberately bratty behavior could be seen as immoral or socially harmful would be confusing its depiction for endorsement, a common occurrence in online discourse (which deals more in clickbait headlines & out-of-context clips than its targets’ actual substance). Cuties is an intentionally uncomfortable watch – one that’s clearly, explicitly alarmist about the sexualization of children’s bodies & minds. It’s conscious of how girls’ & women’s bodies are policed by religious & social institutions, a reality that makes aggressive, sexually provocative dance a form of personal-political rebellion. Still, it’s also horrified by how early access to the internet and highly-sexualized imagery warps these kids’ minds, sending out clear “Do you know where your children are?!” fearmongering to the audience, taking the exact “Save Our Children” moralist position as the people who’ve gotten the most outraged by its existence. You know, people (and bots) who never watched it.

Growing up in New Orleans, I’ve seen children twerk before. At least as far back as Cash Money Records “taking over for the ’99 and the 2000” I’d even call it a fairly common occurrence. While those kids are mimicking a sexually provocative style of dance, they’re not purposefully engaging in sexual behavior and no one really treats it as such. It’s more a cultural rite of passage than anything obscene. The discomfort of watching Cuties is that Doucouré’s camera does sexualize its pint-sized dance troupe’s twerking & grinding, filming their movements as if they were gyrations of women twice their age. It’s a deliberate provocation meant to question what harm pop culture & premature internet access might be doing to kids’ minds, which is made explicitly clear at least by its climactic scene in which an on-screen adult audience watches the central dance troupe’s erotic routine in total, visible disgust. Personally, I didn’t get much out of that line of moralistic handwringing about children’s exposure to sexually explicit pop culture (beyond the intended cringe reactions during some of the more outrageous dance sequences). I was more engaged by the drama of the main character’s journey of self-discovery, wherein she rebels against the constrictions of her home life by joining the bratty dance troupe that routinely causes a ruckus at school. Unfortunately, there’s just so much twerk-alarmist moralizing to sift through (both in the film and online) that the coming-of-age drama feels secondary and not entirely worth the effort, especially when there are films like The Fits, The Florida Project, Girlhood, and Water Lilies that already excel at what it’s struggling to accomplish.

I wish I liked Cuties more, if not only to justify all the mental exhaustion leftover from justifying its right to exist. It’s a mostly okay movie that distinguishes itself by taking some impressively daring swings at a culturally touchy subject – the kind of thing that in a better, recently memorable world would’ve led to divisive film festival reviews not a flood of online death threats. It hasn’t revolutionized the coming-of-age docu-drama in any way, but it has completely changed the way I look at and engage with online film discourse, especially among people I don’t already know & trust.

-Brandon Ledet