At a homeless drop-in center in New York City, a documentary crew finds Bikini Moon Davis, looking for help and a place to stay. With wide, lively eyes and a broad smile, Bikini is provocative, bold, and dynamic – and also clearly in a troubled mental state. Claiming she drove a forklift in the Iraq war and was trained as a carpenter – “just like Jesus, with tits” – she’s been on and of the streets, while hoping to stabilize her life enough to get back her young daughter from a foster home.
Something about Bikini grabs the attention of volunteer social worker (and documentary producer) Kate Skyler, who is seen convincing the film’s director (and her live-in boyfriend), Trevor Hood, that they should make the extra effort to help Bikini get back on her feet. It’s impossible for Trevor not to agree that Bikini is a fascinating subject, ignoring the ethical problem of documentarians getting too involved in their subjects’ lives.
An attempt to find housing for Bikini leads the crew to realize just how deplorable and desperate her situation is. The stories she tells about her life are fascinating, but difficult to prove (if not outright lies), and Bikini’s lucidity waxes and wanes as she goes on and off her medication over the course of several weeks. She nevertheless persists in her struggle to regain custody of her daughter – even when it seems the daughter is a figment of her imagination. Eventually, Kate and Trevor invite Bikini to live with them in a quiet suburb, trying to help, but also ready to exploit her story for their own shot at independent movie fame. They measure her life in birthday parties, milestone moments, and increasingly awkward interactions, until Bikini’s indefinable and ultimately indomitable spirit grows beyond their understanding.
This very modern, urban fairy tale set amidst a fractured ideal of family is presented as a documentary that unravels, reveals, and reimagines itself alongside its unpredictable subject. BIKINI MOON’s film-within-a-film structure unpacks and examines the way we look at the world through media that demands to be seen as reality, while asking the uncomfortable questions about the often exploitative relationship between media and its subjects. Ultimately, documenting Bikini’s life means seeing the world from her point of view without judgment, no matter how fantastic, frightening and ecstatic that view might be.