Directed by: Jill Bauer & Ronna Gradus.
The subject matter of the new documentary Hot Girls Wanted is important and timely – and could very well be the basis of a great documentary. But Hot Girls Wanted is not that movie. The movie follows the lives of a number of girls – ranging from 18 to their early 20s – as they decide to enter the porn industry. They are lured to Miami by ads on Craigslist – put there by a rather dim, seemingly bland young man who will act as their manager, landlord, sometimes co-star, and basically pimp. The fact that he is so emotionless just makes him creepier. The girls arrive full of youthful enthusiasm – thinking that it’s all going to be one big party, where they’ll have lots of sex and make lots of money. During the course of the film, most of them will be chewed up and spit out by the industry in a matter of months – something that is not shocking to any of the pros in the movie. One male porn star lays it out bluntly – most are done in 1-3 months – but if everything goes well, really well, they’ll last a full year. And then, they’re done. That’s because the type of porn they do requires a constant stream of fresh faces – and as their “manager” says – “Every day another girl turns 18, and another girl wants to do porn”.
The girls in this movie do what is known as “pro-amateur” porn – which is professional porn, shot to make it look like it was done by amateur. The actresses are supposed to be young and innocent – marketed as being their “first time” on camera. What that means is that the women don’t book much in the way of repeat gigs – once they’ve been used once, that’s it for that producer. If they want to keep working, they have to start doing what the movie calls more “niche” porn – which is just another way of saying they do more violent, disgusting things on camera.
You could very well make a good documentary about this subject – and parts of Hot Girls Wanted do work quite well. In particular, the scenes of the young women relaxing in their shared house with their manager, actually work quite well. As we watch them go from youthful and naïve – having no idea what they are getting into, to being cynical and realistic about their lives. In just a few months, they are miserable – the sex they have in porn is uncomfortable or downright painful – and it gets worse when they cannot book work. They start to realize that their dreams of making big money aren’t going to happen – it is the men who run the industry who make money, not actresses like them. They are basically pieces of meat.
Those scenes work – for the most part – but the rest of the movie doesn’t. Directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus’ basic strategy in much of the movie is to play sad music as stats from the Kinsey institute about pornography flash on the screen. Either that, or we are subjected to horribly awkward scenes of one of the girls as she travels back home to see her parents – she tells her mom what she does, but cannot tell her dad – and the whole episode is painful to watch, as clearly no one wants to be on camera, but there they are anyway. Bauer and Gradus have said that they didn’t set out to make an anti-pornography film, they just wanted to make the “Super Size Me” of porn – that is to make a documentary that allows consumers a glimpse behind the scenes that may change how they think about the subject. I don’t actually believe Bauer and Gradus are as neutral as they claim (nor do they need to be) – as while the film certainly takes pains not to criticize any of the girls for making decisions with their own body, the film also clearly (and to me correctly) sees those decisions as stupid and ultimately damaging to the girls themselves. The film is very heavy handed, with the subjects often saying such on the nose things that if it was a fiction movie, they would be cut for being hopeless clichés. The film tries very hard to tie to overtly sexualized culture at large to the rise in pornography – shots of Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus appear early in the film for example, although the movie doesn’t actually do anything of interest with this observations.
The basic message of Hot Girls Wanted is that every one of these girls who is in porn is someone’s daughter, girlfriend, etc, and consumers of pornography should at least know that – at least see them as people, and not just masturbation aids. It’s an old point – but still a vitally important one, especially in an era when so much pornography is available online for free for all to see. All this demand means the industry needs more and more young girls to feed it. I hope some of those young girls watch the film before they decide to head into the industry. It may well get them to change their mind. On that level, I guess, Hot Girls Wanted succeeds. As a satisfying documentary experience however, it fails.