out of Five
Running time: 91
Mary Harron's Bettie Page biopic is beautifully shot and features a terrific performance by Gretchen Mol, but it's also frustratingly vague and never gets beneath the surface.
What's it all about?
Gretchen Mol stars as Bettie Page, a quiet, good-natured, church-going girl from Nashville, Tennessee. After brief hints at a turbulent home life (abused by her father, a loveless early marriage) and a further traumatic incident, the film follows Bettie into the modelling career that will make her famous.
Bettie has a natural ease in front of the camera that seems to stem from her good-natured naivety. Through the kindly influence of a group of New York photographers (played by Lili Taylor, Jared Harris and Chris Bauer) she becomes a sensation as a fetish model, eventually winding up at the centre of a senate investigation into pornography before turning to religion in later life.
The film looks terrific. Director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) shoots the majority of the film in period black and white, with occasional bursts of bright technicolour. That said, there's no real reason for the colour sequences (they're not symbolic of anything and they don't indicate the past or present), which is occasionally frustrating.
Mol is superb, perfectly recreating the familiar poses in which Bettie seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself whilst retaining a wholesome, good-natured and even virginal attitude to the entire thing. There's also strong support from the likes of Lili Taylor and Sarah Paulson as a Miami-based photographer with a crush on Bettie.
The main problem with the film is that it remains deliberately and frustratingly vague throughout. Most importantly, we never learn about her private life or even her attitude to sex itself, since we never see her in a meaningful relationship.
Ultimately, the film is disappointing as a biopic because it refuses to provide any insight into Bettie's character. However, it's still worth seeing for Mol's impressive performance.
The Notorious Bettie Page (18)