At first, that voice — and the sunglasses, and the hair, and the fact that, well, it's Lindsay Lohan telling us about child labor — is dissonant. And distracting. But the weird thing is, as the documentary went on, I started to feel like she was kind of the perfect narrator.
While the horrifying facts revealed in the film will not be news to most people, it's still an affecting and informative. But a lot about the issue does seem to be news to Lohan, whose obvious shock and bafflement in some ways serve as a perfect analog for the West's literal and figurative distance. Her utter incomprehension is, at times, striking: "What is with these women?" she asks incredulously upon learning that it's mostly women who administer beatings to children in domestic service (the interpreter patiently explains that it's generally females who supervise this sphere in India). Or when Lohan earnestly asks one child trafficker "why she chose this line of work," or wonders why one impoverished mother allowed her daughter to be beaten. Paparazzi persona aside, Lohan is a reasonably intelligent woman — but one for whom the cultural divide is obviously too much to comprehend at times. And in this regard, she's actual a relatable narrator for many of her generation. As the pragmatic director of one charity expresses it, "If she can feel that way," (the "even she" is implicit) other young people will get the message.
Lohan's interactions with the documentary's many children and teens are heart-rending. "We have something in common," she awkwardly tells one teenager with theatrical aspirations. (The girl then asks what it is that Lohan does for a living. Um.) In a home for former sex workers, Lohan is overwhelmed when one girl, sold into prostitution at 15, begins to sob. After Lohan offers, "I cry all the time," she automatically goes for a hug. The girl's unyielding frame and bleak expression don't change, and it's a telling moment. "Aww," Lindsay emotes uncomfortably when another begins to cry at the prospect of giving up her baby. I'm not questioning the actress's sincerity, which is obvious — but the divide between Lindsay's world and the world of these young women is too great to bridge.
There are other moments, however, when you're forcibly reminded that even those of us who aren't of Lohan-level privilege have our own other side of the looking-glass. "I was trying to understand how poor you'd have to be to send your child to work," says the actress who started modeling in elementary school. And when the women — girls, mostly — from a shelter perform a dance for Lohan, I was surprised to find myself tearing up, both at the their resilience and at the expression of the young woman who's become a byword for "societal casualty" in the West. When a little girl, rescued from a life of begging, comforts Lohan by stroking her hair, you know what the actress means when she says she's "having a moment." And when she says she "so doesn't want to go back to L.A., where there will be 20 paparazzi asking me ridiculous questions" you genuinely hope she doesn't.