Lifetime movie about Anna Nicole Smith never looks past the headlines

San Francisco ChronicleJune 27, 2013 

The Lifetime movie Anna Nicole stars Agnes Bruckner as the poor little Texas girl who, as an adult, used her body to seek fame and fortune.

ANNETTE BROWN

  • ON TV

    'Anna Nicole'

    8 p.m. June 29 on Lifetime

Lifetime's Anna Nicole is a pretty sad affair. It's sad because some surprisingly skilled actors agreed to be in the cast, and it's sad because, of course, Anna Nicole Smith's life was one big trailer tragedy. But it's also sad because six years after her death, she's no longer fodder for even the sleaziest tabloid TV show.

Maybe Lifetime thinks the passage of six years will smooth over the more ridiculous elements of Anna Nicole, airing Saturday night, such as the fact that Agnes Bruckner could pass for the real Anna Nicole only if you squint your eyes — really, really tight.

The big problem is that the film doesn't even pretend to go deeper than what we might remember from when Anna Nicole was the Amanda Bynes or Lindsay Lohan of her day, America's sweet train wreck.

First she was Vickie Lynn Hogan, growing up poor and dreaming of being Marilyn Monroe. Then she became a stripper, got fake breasts, had a kid, changed her name, became a Playboy Playmate and a Guess model, married a nearly dead Texas oil man and spent the rest of her life fighting his son over the estate, winding up without a penny of it. She had a second child; her first, Daniel, died of a drug o verdose; and then she died of an overdose.

What motivated her? Well, according to the film, it was seeing an image of her adult, post-implant self when she was just a child. The Anna Nicole of the mirror tells Vickie Lynn she can be loved and beautiful. Later, as an adult, she is back looking in the mirror, but this time, at the image of her simple, flat-chested child self reminding her there's no place like home, there's no place like home, or some such.

Anna Nicole had a kind of pneumatic look that Bruckner never really achieves. It might seem strange to say this about someone with a mountain of blond hair piled on her head and a veritable cliff of a bosom challenging her already shaky ability to stand upright, but Bruckner always looks just a bit too classy to pass for Anna Nicole.

As for the rest of the cast, it pains me to have to list the major names who agreed to participate in this film. Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen plays Anna Nicole's mother; Adam Goldberg portrays her later-in-life lawyer and companion, Howard K. Stern; and Cary Elwes plays the son of Anna's oilman husband, J. Howard Marshall. OK, worst of all: You might want to avert your eyes and cover your ears when the great Martin Landau, as J. Howard, notes he's no longer able to "spring wood" when he's wheeled into a strip club.

Except for the silly mirror-mirror scenes, the film begins promisingly as teenage Vickie Lynn is locked in her room by her mom because she's already on the hunt for male companionship. "I just want to go bowling," she whines, pounding at the locked door. A few minutes later, she's a single mom to baby Daniel and desperate to make a living.

At this point, the film descends into a kind of perfunctory review of superficial details about Anna Nicole's life that might interest you only if your memory has faded during the past six years.

There's virtually no intelligent or convincing exploration of character, beyond the shopworn theory that Anna Nicole craved fame to validate herself but traded whatever "self" she had to get it.

The film was directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol), who is clearly capable of better work than this.

What a sad waste of an opportunity to go beyond the tabloid headlines. Instead, we get just the headlines, yellowed with age, not very revealing and not very interesting.

It's also impossible to feel any sympathy for Anna Nicole here, and that's perhaps the biggest misstep of all. If you do remember the real thing, she was, of course, silly, larger than life, one drunken stumble after another. But she really didn't seem to know any better, and that made us at least feel a little sorry for her.

But Lifetime's version of Anna Nicole is too calculating to feel anything for. She does seem to know better, even when she's stoned out of her mind, and that makes it impossible for us to care at all for the tragedies her myopic selfishness engendered.

Let the poor woman rest in peace.


ON TV

'Anna Nicole'

8 p.m. June 29 on Lifetime

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