With “Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me,” Review: Abuse

With "Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me," Review: Abuse

This superficial Netflix documentary relates the turbulent life and passing of the model, actress, and tabloid superstar with little insight.

The new documentary “Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me,” about the model, actress, and ’90s tabloid sensation, continues the recent trend of nonfiction portraits of degenerate stars like “Britney vs. Spears” and “Pamela, a Love Story.” These films are meant to be a sort of pop-cultural corrective, ones that deconstruct the popular image of celebrity by demonstrating (not unfairly) that their subjects were demonized and callously misjudged in their times. They are half biography and half pretentious media studies essays.

Using a combination of scathing old news clips (The National Enquirer calls Smith “dumb,” Howard Stern makes fun of her weight), moody, true-crime-esque B-roll, and interviews with Smith’s uncle, brother, and former bodyguard, as well as a number of tabloid journalists, reality-TV producers, and paparazzi, director Ursula Macfarlane attempts to depict the real Smith, who was born Vickie Lynn Hogan and raised in Texas.

Insights from the interviews are scant. Smith was described as someone who “craved attention” and “always liked being the center of attention.” We learn that she sometimes used cunning methods to attract that attention, forcing herself to stardom through a carefully cultivated public persona that later continued to draw attention despite her best efforts to avoid it, at great expense to her privacy and mental health. Despite Macfarlane’s best efforts, the movie ultimately drifts into the realm of what it is trying to condemn: lurid voyeurism, due to the somber exploration of Smith’s life and death (she passed away at 39 from a drug overdose in 2007). Smith’s tumultuous inheritance dispute, her daughter’s disputed paternity, and her son’s tragic death: Even though it describes these events in a self-consciously plaintive register rather than a gawking one, the movie cannot help but sensationalize them. Smith deserved better treatment than what she received. She is entitled to better than this.

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