The true story of the 1950s’ most famous pin-up. Following a strictly religious upbringing, Bettie Page (Mol) moves to New York to model. But photographers are more keen on her modelling out of her clothes than in them. A successful career ensues, until the US Senate calls her in for questioning in a pornography investigation.
The Notorious Bettie Page possesses many factors common to the sex scandal drama: women in skimpy get-ups, matter-of-fact ‘just paying the bills’ pornographers, and a seedy little businessman with a sweaty upper lip. Yet it also has something you never expect of the sub-genre: a pervading warmth and paradoxical innocence.
Though Bettie Page may have made her name posing in scanties, bondage gear or nothing at all, she is not, as depicted by American Psycho director Mary Harron, a woman pre-occupied with sex. It’s just “a bit of fun”; something she does for the money and because she enjoys it. How hairy-palmed gentlemen use her pictures is really none of her concern. So she’s knocked sideways when the Senate calls her to answer porn charges.
Bettie’s charm is all down to Gretchen Mol, who maintains the perfect balance of Bettie’s sexuality and sweetness. Even tied spread-eagled for one of her more ‘specialist’ pictures, she still exudes good ’ol Southern charm. Given the film’s rather narrow scope — there’s little interest in the scandal outside of Bettie’s direct experience of it — she’s required to carry the entire picture, and she does so flawlessly, despite impractical shoes.
A small, strangely sweet tale well told. But this is all about Mol, who puts in a performance that gives her a very early lead on next year’s Oscar race.