Mary Harron’s slyly subversive dig at Dwight D's America is a fresh, fun take on a familiar era.
Who is The Notorious Bettie Page? Take your pick. She's Burlesque Betty, part Botticelli's Venus, part Gaultier's Madonna: shackled bondage babe turned liberated sex symbol. She's Big Bad Betty, political prop of the Cold War, innocent victim of stiffs in suits with one hand on the Constitution and the other in their trousers.
She's Southern Belle Betty, apple pie of the preacher's eye, finding glossy redemption in the arms of Jesus. Gretchen Moll’s Bettie Page is all these things and more.
Taking her cue from the wide-eyed aesthetic of Bettie's own films, director Mary Harron’s slyly subversive dig at Dwight D's America is a fresh, fun take on a familiar era. Gone are the smoke-choked hues of George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, and in their place a film that’s no less dark for its bright and breezy atmosphere.
Moll is terrific in the title role, wielding a mega-watt movie star smile and transforming the tame poses of '50s filth with her teasing sexuality. She has the charisma to carry off Bettie’s chameleon nature, but best of all there’s no hint of actorliness as she dons and discards Bettie’s many disguises.
But if she exhibits a kind of proto-girl power, she’s also an icon of old-fashioned femininity, and a victim of the dark side of American teens’ sexual tension. This is the film’s most powerful message; that as much as Bettie is demonised for corrupting America’s innocence, the rot had long seeped in under the cover of small town values: it’s there in every act of sexual violence muffled by the preaching of the moral majority.
Perhaps Bettie is too passive, too easily drifting from success to failure without much of a finger on the tiller, and the film doesn't deal with the troubled episodes of her later life. But Moll carries the film with such effortless grace it’s never less than enthralling. And when she switches that smile off, your heart will break. To mangle one of Harron's favourite phrases, Bettie Page cooks, man.
A film about a pioneering porn star - what’s not to like?
Sly, clever, funny, refreshing and superbly acted.
Enough to make you renew your subscription to Razzle.