Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields (2023)

Yes, there were several famous adult female models/actresses throughout the 1970s and 1980s, from Lauren Hutton to Iman to Christie Brinkley, but in the extraordinary category of famous child female models/actresses, there was Brooke Shields. Just Brooke Shields.

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‘Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields’ | Official Trailer | Hulu

It is not exaggeration that the childhood and teen years of Brooke Shields, which make up part one of the two-part documentary, Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields on Hulu, can be chronologically traced in magazine covers from that period of time—peaking in a 1981 issue cover of TIME magazine proclaiming her The Face of the 1980s. Pretty heady for a teenager, but behind, beside, and promoting Brooke was her mother, Teri Shields, raising her as a single parent, having divorced father Francis Shields shortly after Brooke was born. Herself a former model, Teri tirelessly labored and pursued every opportunity to secure first modeling and then acting gigs for her little girl—her exceptionally beautiful and photogenic little girl.

Co-produced by ABC News, there’s no shortage of snippets from talk show appearances by Brooke, some with her Mom, some without. Teri had a reputation for being tough as nails, as the saying goes—70s teen singer Leif Garrett’s mother, Carolyn Stellar, memorably said of Teri in Garrett’s VH1 Behind the Music TV episode, “I take my hat off to Brooke Shields’s mom. Nobody messed with her kid.”—but it lived side-by-side with Teri being an admitted alcoholic, who would disappear for hours or days at a time, something Barbara Walters takes her to task for in an interview snippet included here. Children of alcoholics are forced to grow up fast and take on the responsible adult role in the relationship for any number of situations.

But more visible in growing up fast were the movie roles Teri signed on for Brooke to take in movies. Most specifically, Brooke portrayed a child prostitute, complete with nudity, in the film from which the documentary takes its name, Pretty Baby (1978); a young teen girl stranded on a deserted tropical island with a teen boy to whom she loses her virginity and becomes pregnant, in Blue Lagoon (1980); and an older teenage girl in high school who loses her virginity to her teenage boyfriend, which blooms into having regular sexual relations with him under her parents’ roof, in Endless Love (1981). Born in 1965, Brooke was not yet 18-years-old and playing all of these sexually active characters. Also before 18 was an infamous series of ads for Calvin Klein jeans, which lingered over her lower body as she writhed around and spouted various lines, including, most memorably, “Want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing!” It was controversial and disturbing then, and still is now. One of the documentary’s most fascinating scenes is in part two, with Brooke discussing the three films with her own two teenage daughters (and her husband) at the dinner table. At one point, the daughters mention Euphoria, a cable TV show that also explores teenage sexuality, but point out it’s actually done with adult actors playing younger. That more consensual aspect alone could be part of the legacy that Shields leaves behind.

Part two of the documentary focuses on Brooke Shields as an adult, newly graduated from Princeton University, now actually in romantic relationships and dating, and intending to continue her acting career in movies. But that’s not what Hollywood has in mind. Not pulling any punches, Brooke admits it was rocky, as Hollywood seemed to have forgotten about her. She receives the valuable advice that if she wants to return, she must reset and restart. And she takes it, going from the bottom and working her way back up in the entertainment business. People will always remember the young Brooke Shields, but the adult Brooks Shields, over the last few decades, has starred on Broadway, led her own Suddenly Susan NBC Must See TV sitcom plus guest-starred on dozens of other television shows (and still does), and has written several books.

Arguably, it is through her publishing career that Brooke Shields has had the greatest impact. Her book on her personal experiences with postpartum depression brought national attention to the topic, leading to more open discussion and then legislation to acknowledge the condition and provide needed assistance to those suffering from it. There was a mostly forgotten backlash to Brooke’s revelations at the time that came from actor Tom Cruise, which director Lana Wilson dutifully recounts.

Also handled well by director Wilson in part two is Brooke talking for the first time publicly about having been raped by a movie producer, in those rocky post-graduation years. Shields does not provide a name. We do see how her longtime bodyguard, with whom she discussed it at the time (and not with her that night as not considered needed for a simple one-on-one dinner meeting at a hotel restaurant), is still shaken over it. What can be guessed, without going any farther, is that the details of it were similar enough to the ones given by those who suffered at the hands of a certain named movie producer, that Brooke perhaps felt comfortable enough to tell her own story here. This is how the #MeToo movement continues on, with veteran actresses newly coming forward to tell stories previously shrouded in silence.

Brooke’s most recent publication was a book about the complex and complicated relationship she had with her mother, who passed away just a few years after being diagnosed with dementia. Necessarily autobiographical, with that book and now this documentary, Brooke Shields gets to tell her side of the story–her story of her life with her loving mother.

Brooke does not tell her story alone, and along with several writers giving cultural and social notes, a handful of actors who are her friends weigh in, including childhood friend & classmate Laura Linney, Susan co-star Judd Nelson, and Drew Barrymore, perhaps Brooke’s closest equivalent to another woman whose childhood acting career made her massively famous worldwide at a young age, and so is easily the documentary’s most knowledgeable expert on this subject.

The documentary is framed by its main image, a sparse one, in which Brooke, model-ready, is sitting on an elevated stool in front of a simple blue-grey photographer’s backdrop, and speaking about her life and experiences directly. You have her full attention. And you should give her yours.

Brooke Shields celebrated her birthday on May 31, 2023.

Valerie Hawkins has the same last name as the editor only because they have the same mother and father. She tweets under the handle @RebelliousVal, but it's under @Valsadie that she has appeared in books...