Picks and Pans Review: Living Dolls
Show of the week
This remarkable documentary from HBO's America Undercover Sundays series had me talking to the screen. "Get a grip!" I shouted to a woman outfitting her 18-month-old daughter with hair extensions to improve the child's chances in a beauty pageant. "Listen to yourself," I implored a coach who urges a little girl to be "flirty" for the judges. "Are you nuts?" I asked a grimly determined mom who says she shelled out $1,200 for a used designer dress to give her 5-year-old extra glamor. "Yuck!" I cried when a smarmy male emcee croons, "You're all I can't resist.... The first time I held you, I knew.... " to a lineup of entrants in a beauty competition for girls age 7 to 8.
Some will find nothing unseemly here. Others will join me in being amazed—often appalled—by this look at the kiddie pageant scene in 1998-99. But Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen is not an exposé. It's an observant film about grown-ups who work and even sacrifice to turn children into objects for display. "You gotta think, like, 'I'm Barbie,' " the coach tells a 5-year-old named Swan Brooner. When the gussied-up girl walks onstage with a frozen smile and frightened eyes, we can see she got the message. She has a real shot at the $2,500 Star Grand Supreme title. But at what cost?
Bottom Line: Documentary earns a crown