‘Pretty Baby’: Brooke Shields recalls her bizarre childhood in a sometimes jarring documentary

Insightful Hulu bio revisits the scrutiny the actor endured as a teen, and even earlier, for her looks and sexuality.

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A young Brooke Shields in the Hulu docuseries “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields.”

In a photo seen in the “Pretty Baby” documentary, a young Brooke Shields waits on the set of a shampoo commercial in 1980.

ABC News Studios

“I thought of myself as … the workhorse. They paid me, I did the thing, they sold it, everybody was happy. It was transactional.” – A teary-eyed Brooke Shields in the “Pretty Baby” documentary.

Brooke Shields didn’t ask for any of this.

As we’re reminded in Lana Wilson’s insightful, occasionally jarring, well-crafted and ultimately inspirational two-part Hulu documentary “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields,” by the time Shields was 11 years old and starring in Louis Malle’s polarizing, brothel-set historical drama “Pretty Baby” (1978), she had been working for 10 years and was destined to spend her entire adolescence and teen years as an object of controversy, debate — and sexual desire.

‘Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields’

Untitled

A two-part documentary available Monday on Hulu.

With her mother-manager Teri Shields controlling her every move, Shields followed up “Pretty Baby” with roles in the execrable “The Blue Lagoon” (1980) and the only slightly less exploitative but also terrible “Endless Love” (1981). In present day, Shields says of the former film, “They wanted to make it a reality show. … They wanted to sell my actual sexual awakening.”

As has been the case with recent documentaries about Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, Monica Lewinsky and Sinead O’Connor, there’s no shortage of cringe-inducing clips from old talk shows; this time around, Mike Douglas gushes over the looks of a preadolescent Brooke, and Johnny Carson makes a crass joke about Shields attending college. We see a snippet of Barbara Walters asking Teri Shields, “Can’t someone say to you that you are exploiting the sensuality of a child?” and Shields responding, “Well, if that’s all I was doing, probably yes. But that’s not all that I’m doing with Brooke, or what Brooke is doing.”

Hardly a convincing answer.

Many of us already know the beats of Shields’ life and career, but it’s still a jolt to hear her speak of the obligations she felt to her alcoholic mother: “I felt such a responsibility to keep her alive. My very life depended on it, so I fought. You keep the peace … and accept the apology in the morning.” It’s also heartbreaking to hear Brooke recount how she was raped by a powerful Hollywood executive as she was trying to get back into film and TV after college. And you feel her frustration when she speaks of writing a book about her experiences at college, only to have the publisher turn it into a glossy, superficial tale, and the media to focus solely on her still being a virgin.

Director Wilson toggles back and forth between present-day interviews with the now 57-year-old Shields, archival clips, and insights from social commentators such as Karina Longworth and showbiz friends of Brooke including Drew Barrymore, Judd Nelson, Ali Wentworth and Laura Linney. (As the kids say, I was today years old when I learned Shields and Linney were childhood best friends.)

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Brooke Shields, now 57, looks back at her life during the documentary “Pretty Baby.”

ABC News Studios

We’re reminded of Tom Cruise’s brutal and oafish media attacks on Shields regarding postpartum depression, and Shields’ elegant and powerful response to Cruise. And we learn that Andre Agassi flew into a jealous rage, destroying his trophies from Wimbledon et al., over Shields playing Joey’s psycho girlfriend on “Friends.”

It’s debatable how much Hollywood and society have progressed since the 1970s and 1980s, though it’s a near certainty “Pretty Baby” wouldn’t be made (or would be filmed in a different manner), and those Calvin Klein ads, with a 15-year-old Brooke saying, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing,” wouldn’t air. What does seem clear is that Brooke Shields has emerged from decades in the harsh glare of the spotlight and some heavy trials and tribulations as one tremendously impressive person.

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