Was she really that naive? Or was she a brilliant strategist seizing the opportunity and sensing that the time was right? Was she really as innocent as she appeared or was she really The Notorious Bettie Page that our imaginations want her to be?
The opening scene filmed in striking black and white features a 1955 undercover agent conducting a bust of a porn shop. Throughout the entire film, we see examples of what was considered porn in the '50s that compares favorably with a present day Victoria's Secret catalog. One of the crew members comments in the special feature that you see some of this stuff in store windows in New York now and it doesn't even raise eyebrows. Then a flashback to 1936 Nashville when Bettie was only 13, an innocent teen in rural Tennessee. There are hints here of a willingness to explore life outside the confines of a strict home life where we see suggestions of molestation by her father. Unfortunately, neither of these themes are developed nor clarified. I prefer directors who give their audience credit for being able to think. We don't always need a final scene at the end to wrap things up when we can figure it out for ourselves.
In this case, it would have been appropriate for director Mary Harron to have given us more information. There's also a gang rape scene that seems to come onto the screen out of nowhere — a real non sequitur. In contrast to the hints of parental abuse, the rape scene is unsettling but thankfully not graphic. We're left to figure this one out for ourselves. Did this crime go unpunished? Did Miss Page suffer long-term effects from it? Is it why the marriage to her childhood sweetheart failed? Does the rape come into play when she approaches a total stranger on the beach and picks him up?
Considering the superficial nature of this film and the lack of character development, the quality of the acting makes it easy to say "Gretchen Mol became Bettie Page" in the same sense as complimenting Jamie Foxx and Joaquin Phoenix for their biopic performances as Charles and Cash respectively. Mol effortlessly conveyed the openness and willingness of Page to "make 'em happy." She was confidently at ease both posing for the camera club guys and romping completely nude both in and out of the studio.