Children Without Childhoods
Notwithstanding the coyly suggestive title, “Very Young Girls” is very far from exploitative. Adopting a confessional, direct-to-camera interview style for most of its running time, this unvarnished vérité documentary about teenage prostitutes in New York City resolutely resists the urge to dramatize. The heartbreaking stories are drama enough.
There’s forthright Shaneiqua, picked up as a 12-year-old by a man who provided a “honeymoon period” of kindness and affection before turning her out to earn; and Martha, who makes excuses for her pimp’s brutal behavior (“I’m his investment”) while wondering why her parents don’t come to save her.
Trying to do just that is the support organization GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), founded and run by Rachel Lloyd, a former victim of sexual exploitation. Part den mother, part therapist, Ms. Lloyd is a heroic counterpoint to the movie’s token pimps, Anthony and Chris Griffith, whose repulsive home videos — shot to kick-start a reality-television career and subsequently used to convict them — suggest only that reasoning and pimping may be mutually exclusive activities.
Ignoring underlying issues of upbringing, class or race (only one of the film’s victims is white), “Very Young Girls” is still an effective scratch on the surface of a serious social problem. However hard it is out there for a pimp, it’s not nearly hard enough.
VERY YOUNG GIRLS
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Produced and directed by David Schisgall; edited by Jane Jo; music by Nathan Larson; released by Swinging T Productions. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. This film is not rated. [NYTimes]