A review of “The Notorious Bettie Page” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for nudity and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

 

 

Gretchen Mol is positively luminous as the twentieth century’s most notorious pin-up queen.

Bettie Page is the girl-next-door, a freshly scrubbed church-bred Southerner who just wants her break. A brief wartime marriage and a squalid gang rape are all the incentive she needs to hightail it to the Big Apple circa 1949.

Ever the enthusiast Bettie wastes no time in expressing herself through modeling, for which she demonstrates a quick aptitude. To wit scantily clad sessions for colorful girlie mags Wink, Titter and Black Nylons.

Those assignments lead Bettie straight into the hands of adult filmmakers cum fetish photographers Irving and Paula Klaw (Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor) for whom Bettie specializes in S&M and bondage pics. Not to mention the occasional titillating short featuring spanking and flagellation. All in a day’s work!

Bettie’s most illustrious brush with fame is a brief encounter with Bunny Yeager, the fledgling Miami-based photographer who shoots Bettie’s most infamous nudes, including the “Jungle Bettie” series starring a pair of frisky cheetahs. The Yeager sessions are saturated in color, a vibrant contrast to the film’s subdued black-and-white palette.

Director Mary Harron (“American Psycho”) chooses the path of least resistance, maintaining a superficial view of Bettie’s deepest desires (both carnal and spiritual) while keeping it playful and provocative. Senate pornography hearings hint of political spice that doesn’t fully shake out.

As portrayed by Mol Bettie is less sex icon than merry minx, steadfastly compliant and ultra-comfy in her birthday suit. Mol’s cheerful naiveté and smoking hot bod offer up a narrative sleight of hand, bypassing the seamier side of a questionable craft with lively bonhomie.