In recent years, we’ve witnessed a wave of film projects telling the personal stories of celebrity women such as ”This Is Paris,” “Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil,” “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry,” “Framing Britney Spears,” “Pamela, A Love Story,” “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” and now “Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me.”
Often they were targets for paparazzi. Their image was usually misrepresented to the world and they were often maligned. Twisted stereotypes haunted and followed them for years, and some never came back from the dark side. To this day, people have revisited these stories, and, by doing so, provided more context and clarity to the public as to who they were. That was the case with Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith who died from an accidental drug overdose in 2007 at age 39.
For Smith, her high-octane personal life started in the dusty town of Mexia, Texas. The film charts her evolution from Vickie Lynn Hogan, an attention-obsessed young girl, as she bounced between her mother and aunt’s home. She dropped out of high school in her sophomore year, worked at a local chicken joint, and got married at 17, which led to her giving birth to her son Daniel.
Soon after, she left her husband and moved with her baby to Houston where she eventually changed her name and made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles like so many others. What separates her from the crowd is that she was also a calculating architect of her own life and public image — a single mother who landed the life-changing opportunity to become Playboy’s 1993 Playmate of the Year. That led Smith to be a model for Guess jeans which put her on the celebrity map.
The film shows her at the height of her fame, talking about being offered a role in “The Mask” — “It’s got Jim Carrey in it, that funny guy” — and a clip of Smith’s cameo in “The Hudsucker Proxy” directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Her celebrity status quickly turned sour, but she gained notoriety from her marriage to billionaire oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall — who was many decades older than her. That resulted in an inheritance lawsuit, and a paternity case that involved multiple suitors. Smith’s presence in the press looms large in the new documentary of Smith’s turbulent life.
The homemade footage of Marshall and Smith is jarring, but there seems to be genuine affection between them at the beginning. Still, phone messages of Marshall desperately trying to reach Smith — “This is your man, trying to find his lady fair” and, “Your husband wants to talk to you. Please call me” — are kind of sad.
Directed by Ursula Macfarlane (“Untouchable,” “The Lost Sons”), the film traces the tragic trajectory of the model, actress, and, for better or worse, tabloid magnet with the aid of much archival material, photos, news footage and never-seen-before clips. It also features some interviews with people who were close to her, including her brother, half-brother, and a close friend who’s identified as Missy. According to friend’s interview in the film, Smith alleged that her biological father, who she did not meet until she was an adult, attempted to have sexual relations with her; she also claims that Smith took the story of her abusive upbringing and fed it to the media as her own.
The second half of the doc delves into a deep analysis of her fame that didn’t happen by pure luck, reviewing her strong ambitious appetite for money and a desire for drugs. Sex ended up undermining her effort, instead of humanizing her. But is she a prototype for our modern celebrity? Her public image and the accompanying media frenzy certainly indicated she was headed into that direction.
Throughout the film, Smith showed an amazing knack for getting men to do what she wanted them to do. She never really outran the gold digger tag. At the end, Playboy editor Marilyn Grabowski summed up Smith’s life: “Fame is something that people strive for, but the other side of that coin is that fame finds people and won’t let them go.” What’s really engaging about this film is that no one really understood who she was, even those that believed themselves close to her. No one grasped the soul of her heart and it seemed that she was always facing dire consequences of fame just like Marilyn Monroe.
Grade : B+
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Here’s the trailer of the film.