May 23rd, 2008

THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE (2006) *** ½

Gretchen Mol has always been one of those actresses that have a sweet on-screen personality, but are ultimately forgettable. 

 

Not anymore. 

 

In The Notorious Bettie Page, Mol gives a spectacular performance, one of the best by an actress in some time, and one you soon won’t forget. 

 

She plays the legendary Bettie Page, the “Bondage Queen” of the 50’s.  She grows up on a farm in the Bible Belt and moves out to New York City to start an acting and modeling career.  Photographers quickly realize her natural charisma and photogenic Everygirl appeal and she rapidly becomes the “Pin-Up Girl of the Universe”.  She also poses for some risqué bondage shots that land her in hot water with the government and ultimately becomes a Born Again Christian.  (“Adam and Eve were naked, until they sinned!”)

 

Director Mary (American Psycho) Harron sprinkles the film with lots of ingenious touches like filming the New York sequences in stark black and white and the Miami Beach scenes in bright Technicolor.  Harron really captures the time period beautifully and the montages featuring Page modeling on the covers of various magazines is also done with a lot of eye-popping pizzazz. 

 

As much fun as these sequences are though, the film is not perfect.  The chief complaint I have with the film is that the Senate hearing subplot eats up a lot of screen time and doesn’t really go anywhere.  I also wished the film had explored Page’s work in such films as Varietease and Striporama (it would have been awesome to see Mol recreate Page’s bubble bath scene from that film), but these are really minor quibbles to be sure.  

 

Any die-hard Page fan will want to check this out ASAP, but for the uninitiated, the real reason to watch the film is Mol’s performance.  She perfectly captures Page’s cheerful exuberance and makes you think you’re actually watching Bettie Page and not Gretchen Mol, which is the highest compliment you can give an actor portraying a real person.  The secret to Bettie’s timelessness was the way she threw herself into her poses with so much carefree gusto.  It didn’t matter if she was fully clothed, in a bikini, totally naked or brandishing a riding crop; in every shot she always had the same joyful expression.  Mol understands that to a tee and her performance is nothing short of amazing.