‘Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me’ Review: Mistreated

“Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me,” a new documentary about the model, actress and ’90s tabloid sensation, follows a trend established by other nonfiction portraits of démodé stars released in recent years, such as “Britney vs Spears” and “Pamela, a Love Story.” Half biography, half supercilious media studies essay, these films are intended to be sort of pop-cultural correctives, ones which deconstruct the popular image of celebrity by demonstrating (not unfairly) that their subjects were vilified and callously misjudged in their times.

This movie’s director, Ursula Macfarlane, tries to show the real Smith — who was born Vickie Lynn Hogan and raised in Texas — through a combination of cruel archival news clips (The National Enquirer calls her “dumb,” Howard Stern mocks her weight); moody, true-crime-esque B-roll; and interviews with Smith’s uncle, her brother and her former bodyguard, plus a number of tabloid journalists, reality-TV producers and members of the paparazzi.

The interviews are short on insights. We hear both that Smith “craved attention” and “always liked being the center of attention.” We learn that she sometimes acquired that attention in savvy ways, willing herself to superstardom through a public image she meticulously styled, and later attracted attention despite efforts to escape it, at great cost to her privacy and mental health. But the solemn excavation of Smith’s life and death — she died at 39 of a drug overdose, in 2007 — ultimately brings the movie, despite Macfarlane’s well-meaning efforts, squarely into the territory of what it’s attempting to condemn: lurid voyeurism. Smith’s contentious inheritance case, the disputed paternity of her daughter, the tragic death of her son: The movie cannot help but sensationalize these events, even though it relates them in a self-consciously plaintive register rather than a gawking one. Smith deserved better than how she was treated. And she deserves better than this.

Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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