'Hot Girls Wanted': Sundance Review

This observational doc quietly illustrates the tawdry exploitation of barely legal young women in the porn industry

Former print journalists Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus examine the world of amateur porn with this follow-up to their debut, 'Sexy Baby.'

Parents be forewarned: After watching documentary Hot Girls Wanted, anyone with a daughter will feel an uncontrollable urge to prevent her from ever using the Internet again, or perhaps even leaving the house.

Marking a natural progression from their debut, Sexy Baby (2012), about erotic images of children in the mass media, this latest effort from directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, originally print journalists, infiltrates the world of legal amateur porn in order to understand this growth industry’s young female stars. Although the filmmakers strive to give a fair hearing to those within the porn world who unapologetically defend the profession, the film clearly questions just how much the barely legal participants are in control, while personal stories illustrate the psychological damage sex work inflicts. Carefully constructed so as to not further exploit the participants, this rigorous, timely study has potential as a niche theatrical release.

The core narrative, shot over several months, follows the fortunes of four or five women who’ve signed with a Miami-based agency, Mofos, which uses Craigslist and similar sites to find fresh meat for its multiple platforms providing amateur porn content. Given bed and board at the dreary suburban home of dead-eyed agent Riley, and paid what seems to them vastly more money than they would usually earn doing minimum-wage jobs (although there are hidden expenses), the girls soon discover that their shelf-life is limited unless they become breakout stars.

Most don’t last more than three months in the job. For many, once their novelty value has worn off, they find themselves less in demand unless they’re willing to participate in “specialist” films, ones involving forced oral sex, seemingly feigned violence, verbal abuse and bondage.

For one woman, Tressa from Texas (her last name withheld), it’s when she gets to this point in her brief career that she starts to have second thoughts, as does her hitherto-supportive boyfriend who up until then had taken a laissez-faire, “It’s your body” line on her sex work. A hideously painful infected gland in her vagina, brought on by so much sex, brings home the physical toll of the job, while she faces pressure from her mother to give it up and come home. Watch closely and you can almost see the exact moment when the penny drops as her boyfriend gently asks her to clarify the difference between this line of work and prostitution.

Another girl, Rachel, whom we don’t get to know as well as Tress, also begins to question her calling, but the film takes pains to give voice to other women who actively enjoy the work or at least think it’s no big deal and beats working at McDonalds. At one point several of the girls and Riley watch Belle Knox, the Duke University student made famous for paying her tuition fees by doing porn, on TV as she defends her sex work as empowering and describes herself as feminist. “She must have a great publicist,” one girl remarks, clearly unimpressed with the women’s studies rhetoric and not a little jealous that Belle is getting so much attention for the same work she does.

These subjects’ stories illustrate the industry's insidiousness perfectly well by themselves. Nevertheless, Bauer and Gradus up the ante with intermittent rapid-fire, fair-use montages, nimbly cut by screenwriter-editor-producer Brittany Huckabee, that illustrate not just the broader world of online porn but also the highly sexualized culture teenagers are immersed in these days, bombarded every day with media coverage of Rihanna’s nipples, Kim Kardashian’s ass or Nicki Minaj’s twerking skills. The implication is that it’s no wonder kids today have become desensitized and think of sex as no big deal, a valid point but one that might be said with more authority and clarity. Praise is due to Huckabee in particular for finding ways to crop, frame and cut away in such a fashion as to avoid showing anything explicit that might further exploit the subjects. 

Production companies: Two to Tangle Productions
Directors: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus
Screenwriter:Brittany Huckabee
Producers: Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus, Brittany Huckabee
Executive producers: Abigail E. Disney, Gini Reticker, Chandra Jessee, Barbara Dobkin, Geralyn Dreyfous, Daniel E. Catullo III, Evan Krauss
Director of photography: Ronna Gradus
Editor: Brittany Huckabee
Music: Daniel Ahearn
Sales: Submarine Entertainment, United Talent Agency

No rating, 84 minutes