The Notorious Bettie Page (Mary Harron). 100 minutes. Opens Friday (April 14). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NN Rating: NN
The problem with Bettie Page as a subject for drama is that her life wasn't very dramatic. She was a nice, wholesome Southern girl who wandered wide-eyed into the world of "figure" modelling and wound up as the archetypal American pin-up of the early 50s, a reputation enhanced by her extensive portfolio of bondage work.
It's quite possible that director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho) and screenwriter Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) are setting Page up as a reverse sex symbol for America. She's kinky on the outside but basically a "nice" girl on the inside, while America is outwardly presentable yet inwardly kinky.
But I could just be reaching to explain the film's relative lifelessness.
There are a couple of reasons to see it. Gretchen Mol is a surprisingly effective choice as Page, and it's always fun to see Lili Taylor , here the wife and business partner of pornographer Irving Klaw ( Chris Bauer ).
The cinematography, mostly black-and-white, is exquisite, and the production and costume design are very precise in their evocation of period.
At the same time, I'm thinking that Bunny Yeager ( Sarah Paulson ), who shot most of Page's Florida pictures, would make a much more interesting choice for a film biography -- a model who became one of the best-known pin-up photographers of her era.
Turner and Harron seem incapable of figuring out what drove Page. There is a rape (the most tastefully rendered offscreen rape you've ever not seen), but that's never tied to what happens later in her life. She's a pretty leaf buffeted by the winds of the 50s, and then becomes a nice Christian lady.
Page is still alive, and declined to cooperate with the filmmakers, but I doubt there's anything here that will offend her.