I guess I spoke too soon a few weeks ago when I predicted that Lifetime’s Anna Nicole would be good, or at least come close to it. I can’t really blame a-few-weeks-younger me, though, since the movie’s trailer – plus the presence of director Mary Harron – made it look pretty legit. I realize now that the trailer’s lack of dialogue probably contributed to the charade. The film’s script is full of silly lines and over-the-top moments. But as I watched Lifetime’s version of Anna Nicole Smith have a wedding dance with her wheelchair-bound groom or lose her sense of reality while sporting clown makeup, I had to ask myself, is it possible to make a movie about this woman’s life without it being ridiculous? The answer that I came up with is that it would be very hard. I’m too young to have known much about Anna Nicole Smith until after her death. What I gathered is that she led an outrageous and often stranger-than-fiction life that ended in tragedy. Her life was, to borrow an expression from the network itself, a Lifetime movie, which is why it’s weird that they took so long to make it. The movie’s campiness mirrors the life Anna Nicole led, and some, like Tracie Egan Morrissey at Jezebel, call that choice “genius,” but I have to disagree. If I want to relive what a train wreck Anna Nicole’s life was, I can read countless tabloid articles or watch her reality show. Tell me something I don’t already know.
This movie is nowhere close to the hot mess that Liz & Dick was, and it’s not even as cheesetastic as Jodi Arias, but it’s still pretty ridiculous, if only for the fact that its inspiration was ridiculous. The movie is peppered with voiceovers from Anna Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) herself, explaining things that could have (and should have) been clear from the onscreen action. By the end of the movie, when her voiceover starts diagnosing all the possible causes of her behavior and ultimately takes full responsibility for her actions, it was all too convenient and felt like an attempt to tie everything together with a nice bow. There’s also this totally laughable storytelling device in which young Anna Nicole, or Vickie Lynn Hogan, as she was then known, sees her future self in reflections, and then vice versa, as washed-up Anna Nicole sees her younger self. It was incredibly clichéd and a pretty lazy way to explain her behavior.
There’s also no shortage of LOL-worthy dialogue, like when Anna Nicole says “I feel like poop,” or when her aged husband J. Howard Marshall (Martin Landau, who had to have been blackmailed into this gig) tells her, “You make me feel 75 again.” But for every moment of so-bad-it’s-good-ness, there’s a forced reminder that we shouldn’t be laughing. These usually come from Anna Nicole’s son Danny, who proves to be the movie’s sobering voice of reason. This confuses the tone, and Danny’s dialogue is too on-the-nose and prophetic, like when he scolds his mother for her drug use and asks if that’s how she wants him to end up (Danny later dies of a drug overdose), or when he tells her that she and a camera “are like a moth and a flame.” All of the insightful, analytical moments come from exact dialogue, rather than through the natural action of the story itself.
As for the acting, Agnes Bruckner’s Anna Nicole blows Lindsay Lohan’s Elizabeth Taylor out of the water, but I didn’t get the same “it” factor that it seems the real Anna Nicole had. I spent most of the movie wondering why this woman, as she’s portrayed here, became so famous. The only thing that turns her from pole-dancing disaster to successful stripper is a boob job, and later when she poses for Playboy and Guess, she lacks spark. From what I’ve witnessed, Anna Nicole had a larger-than-life personality and sex appeal to boot, but I just wasn’t getting that from Bruckner’s performance. As for the other performances, I was mostly just horrified to see what Cary Elwes did to his hairline to play E. Pierce Marshall (J. Howard’s son). It was made even more cruel by the fact that TV Guide Network was playing The Princess Bride immediately afterward. I was actually pretty amused by Adam Goldberg’s awkward, creepy portrayal of Anna Nicole’s lawyer Howard K. Stern. It definitely made a statement about that character.
After all the over-the-top moments and poorly executed storytelling techniques, there was still that sad ending we all knew was coming. When Anna Nicole’s son Danny dies in the very hospital where she has just given birth to her daughter, and when she later cries over his open casket at the funeral, only to die herself a few months later, I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear or two. Like the actual saga of events in Anna Nicole’s life, the movie’s tone went from ridiculous to heartbreaking, and it was a shocking shift.
You might be wondering why I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy the cheese, like I did with Jodi Arias and like I do with countless other Lifetime movies from week to week. The first reason I have is that, even though this movie had so many corny elements, there was still that sense that it was trying to be legitimate, in addition to the constant reminder in the back of my head that these things actually happened and were just as absurd, if not more so. But I also think that, since this story took so many years to reach the big screen, I wanted to see something good come out of it. As much as I love a campy Lifetime movie, I also love really good movies, and this was the kind of story I’d like to see told with a little more intelligence and artistry, even if only for the fact that it would be such a difficult undertaking. I’m not saying the movie shouldn’t have had its ridiculous moments (otherwise it wouldn’t be accurate), but I would have liked to see a deeper, better-executed message behind all the cheesiness.
P.S. Lifetime couldn’t bother to make Lindsay Lohan age as Elizabeth Taylor, but they could give Agnes Bruckner those frighteningly convincing prosthetic boobies? What was that about?