THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE
AN UNFORTUNATE THUMBS DOWN FILM REVIEW RATING!
THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is intelligently filmed, using grainy black and white film stock that gives it a period piece feel. And, unfortunately, this is the most notable part of the entire production. Although actress Gretchen Mol does an excellent acting job (even when completely naked), the story fails simply because there's little to no understanding as to Bettie's motivations.
That Bettie Page was one of the first celebrated pin-ups in the world is well known. Her leather and bondage photos launched her into an underground fetish realm that soon sparked congressional hearings on the matter, too. But it was her infectious innocence that most people comment on and Mol certainly got that aspect down pat. Where the movie blurs is the understanding of Betty's life experiences, and this portion fails miserably thanks to a script lacking such content.
For instance ...
In the beginning of the flick we're with Bettie while she sits in church with her mother. From this we are supposed to surmise (I guess) that Betty is fairly pious. But sitting in church does not equate to piety. In fact, Bettie is seen flirting with a young boy, so this didn't jive with any sort of religious binding she may have felt towards the end of the movie; she does "turn to Christianity" in the end, as history tells us. So everything from her naïve attitudes towards her pictures to her comfort level with nudity didn't make sense in terms of her religious attitudes at the beginning and end.
The other portion that is bothersome is the lack of any angst. Bettie is so comfortable with her fetish photo sessions that we don't feel there's any problem with it. We never get outside of Bettie (except for the congressional hearings which, again, are lacking any intensity), so never really see what others think of what she's doing, thus giving us no sense of any wrong-doing. The congressional hearings are just barely touched on and give little to no understanding as to how they got started, too.
That Bettie is possibly molested by her father is also alluded to but never fully explored. The assumption (again, I'm guessing) is that the audience is supposed to make the connection between her childhood abuse and her choice as a sexual icon later in life. But we only see one little snippet (about eight seconds of actual film time) on this topic and then it is summarily dropped.
Although the great black and white photography and the fascinating history surrounding this sexual dynamo may be appealing on one level, the fouled-up script makes it too easily forgettable.