Generally favorable reviews - based on 38 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 28 out of 38
  2. Negative: 0 out of 38
  1. 88
    Gretchen Mol is finally the key to the mysterious appeal of the film, to its sweetness and sadness.
  2. The movie, in a sense, is just like Bettie's photos: all glorious surface. The Notorious Bettie Page captures, with seductive finesse, how Bettie Page happened, yet what it leaves us with is the tantalizing enigma of a girl who couldn't truly be ''bad'' because she made sex divinely delicious.
  3. 80
    A picture that's fully open to some pretty rough truths. But it's also a joyful, heartfelt movie, one that speaks to the openness and vitality we see in Bettie's pictures.
  4. Reviewed by: Jim Ridley
    Neither a mock-heroic cockeyed success story like "Ed Wood" nor a "Walk the Line"-style hagiography, Mary Harron's facile but hugely entertaining black-and-white biopic seems most interested in its subject--a studious southern girl who became the world's most celebrated fetish pinup--as an object.
  5. 75
    Mol nails it, in a performance that should earn her a comeback on a Heath Ledger-like scale.
  6. 75
    The film takes a little time to explore the political landscape of the time, and features an Oscar-worthy lead performance.
  7. The playfulness evident in the hundreds of bondage photos that made a pious young Tennessee model semi-famous in the 1950s and an 82-year-old legend today is also the driving force of Mary Harron's superb The Notorious Bettie Page.
  8. Floats on the charm and the labors of its lead actress, Gretchen Mol, who single-handedly makes the picture worth seeing.
  9. It's a joy to see so many cheerful and contented characters on screen, especially on a screen that looks this good.
  10. 75
    Harron needed just the right actress to play Bettie. And she lucked out big time. Gretchen Mol (The Shape of Things) is hot stuff in every sense of the term. She delivers the first performance by an actress this year that deserves serious Oscar consideration.
  11. 75
    This movie will be remembered not for the notorious Bettie Page but for its showcase of the burgeoning Gretchen Mol.
  12. Principally a work of gorgeous surfaces, shot mostly in silvery black-and-white film by the cinematographer Mott Hupfel, with an occasional splash of saturated color.
  13. Reviewed by: Troy Patterson
    Harron, working from a script she wrote with Guinevere Turner, doesn't solve the inherent problems of that narrative, but she evades them quite elegantly. She's made a poem instead of a biopic, an ode to intuition, iconography, seamed stockings, and star power.
  14. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    This cheeky movie does not impose heavy-duty meaning on Page's life and times. It just lets us draw our own ambiguous conclusions about what she did. It is the better, the more enticing, for so doing.
  15. Director Mary Harron may have more courage than talent -- and she's got a lot of talent. It's too bad Bettie's story isn't more dramatic.
  16. The notion that Page, like Marilyn Monroe, was too ditzy to know what she was doing is more a mythological construct than an observation.
  17. Harron's work here is unclear in its theme or purpose. Was she showing how a woman managed to find a woman's way to success in a man's world? Was Harron interested in Page's delusion about what she was doing? Or did she want to scoff implicitly at the customers who made Page's career possible? We are left wondering.
  18. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    Its tone is semi-parodic, with lurid black-and-white cinematography and brassy, tongue-in-cheek music. But Harron stops well short of camp.
  19. 70
    A lightweight retelling of Page's life, a sketch, really, which doesn't probe very deeply into Page's bizarre mixture of exhibitionism and piety. But some scenes that might have been borderline exploitation, or just corny…turn out to be ineffably beautiful.
  20. Gretchen Mol is unrelentingly charming in the role and she almost - almost - makes you believe that someone as unclouded as this could actually exist. This film would go well on a double bill with "The Stepford Wives."
  21. Who was Bettie Page? You won't find out in Mary Harron's chirpily cheery chronicle.
  22. 67
    It's less cheesecake than angel-food: frothy, light, and delicious, sure, but two hours later you're ready for something slightly more substantive.
  23. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Because we are left with so many questions, the film emerges as emotionally lacking and flat when it should be moving, or at least enlightening.
  24. 63
    An oddly lifeless affair, though Gretchen Mol's sunny performance almost hauls it out of its doldrums.
  25. Anyone expecting another dark satiric film in the same vein of Harron's earlier movies will be disappointed. Perhaps as befits a bondage-themed picture, The Notorious Bettie Page is very restrained, even a little starchy.
  26. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    It's a handsome, often funny piece of work with a nearly fatal inability to settle on a tone.
  27. In the odd, and oddly compelling, biopic The Notorious Bettie Page, Gretchen Mol is a delight as the saucy brunette.
  28. 63
    The script, which Harron co-wrote with Guinevere Turner, presents a disappointingly superficial portrait of Page as a person.
  29. Reviewed by: Matthew Sorrento
    Without much help from a weak script, and barely in need of some carefully tuned cinematography, Mol fuels so much of the film that a handful of lackluster elements seem to work.
  30. Reviewed by: Olly Richards
    A small, strangely sweet tale well told. But this is all about Mol, who puts in a performance that gives her a very early lead on next year's Oscar race.
  31. While Gretchen Mol delivers a delightfully exuberant lead performance, the film itself seldom goes beyond skin deep.
  32. 58
    A feature film has to be more than just an interesting theme; it needs something that constitutes drama -- conflict, journey, adventure, what have you. The Notorious Bettie Page is a perfect example of a film that has a subject but no story.
  33. 50
    Not for nothing is this movie opening on Good Friday. It can be as boring as church. There's no snake in Bettie's Eden and no narrative to Harron's movie. It's more of an altar piece: Our Lady of the Garter Belt, the Fastidious Bettie Page.
  34. 50
    While it's true that most of us make our way through life without a plan, the studied arbitrariness of Page's accommodating ramble from Hicksville to Smutsville doesn't make for thrilling cinema.
  35. Harron has said she was determined to be nonjudgmental about Page, to do justice to the woman's "mystery and ambiguity." In practice, however, that attitude plays as coldness, and Page, for all her remarkable zest, comes off as a not terribly interesting person we're given no incentive to become involved with.
  36. In spite of the film's surface allure -- no, not the leather, the period evocation -- and a fine performance by Gretchen Mol in the title role, Bettie is in bondage to a shallow, black-and-white script.
  37. 50
    Disappointingly skin-deep and almost shockingly wholesome, Mary Harron's The Notorious Bettie Page lives up to neither its title nor its advertising slogan, "the pin-up sensation that shocked the nation."
  38. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    A superficial look at the '50s sex icon, picture feels like it was researched via press clippings rather than attempting a fresh rethinking of its era and provocative subject.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 14 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 4 out of 7
  2. Negative: 0 out of 7
  1. Feb 9, 2012
    The Notorious Bettie Page, a biopic of the infamous pin-up icon, is a mildly entertaining romp through Page's early life and modelling career.The Notorious Bettie Page, a biopic of the infamous pin-up icon, is a mildly entertaining romp through Page's early life and modelling career. Gretchen Mol is spot-on as Page, she looks the part and perfectly captures her iconic poses. Jared Harris is also good as seedy British photographer John Willie, as is David Strathairn as Estes Kefauver as a senator investigating the negative impact of pornography on the American people. I also like the stylistic decision to film partially in black-and-white and partially in garish technicolor - it works really well in terms of setting the tone of particular scenes, with Page's formative years and earlier modelling experiences presented with a nostalgic, classic Hollywood appearance, and her celebrity lifestyle in Miami and her most iconic magazine covers presented as garish, striking splashes of colour. Unfortunately, the film does not seem to say an awful lot about anything, beyond a meagre attempt to discuss the morality of nude photography and censorship. A lot of the film, in fact, seems to simply be providing something to fill the space between the softcore thrills. I also feel that the story comes to an end just when it starts to get really interesting. I would love to see a film adaptation of Page's later life, a far darker and more complex period that would offer genuine scope for real drama. That's the main disappointment about The Notorious Bettie Page, for a story of such a controversial figure, the film comes across as a little tame. Director Mary Harron and her co-writer Guinevere Turner could have been so much braver and really gotten behind Bettie Page's motivations, and her seemingly contradictory moral code. As it is, the film is pleasant, but a little limp and uninspiring. I don't begrudge watching such a competent film, but I never felt I got to understand Bettie Page, so as a biopic, it ultimately fails. Full Review »
  2. HalB.
    May 5, 2007
    An unexpected delight. A quirky little black & white film that transports us back into the 30s, 40s and 50s. This is essentially a character An unexpected delight. A quirky little black & white film that transports us back into the 30s, 40s and 50s. This is essentially a character study of one of the more fascinating individuals to come out of the 20th century, and it serves as an indictment of our still-repressed culture. Mol's performance is not to be missed. Can you say "Wow!"? Full Review »
  3. ChadShiira
    Oct 22, 2006
    Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) was every man's fantasy, and that's where the filmmaker keeps her, on the pages of a magazine and in Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) was every man's fantasy, and that's where the filmmaker keeps her, on the pages of a magazine and in scratchy 8mm film. We never see her having sex with anybody. That's a very nice touch, and "The Notorious Bettie Page" is a very nice film. No movie since Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire" uses both black and white and color photography so judiciously. Black and white does New York justice, as color does the same for a Miami holiday. "The Notorious Bettie Page" is essentially a film about pornography, albeit the period this film captures is an industry still in its infancy, still largely underground. In a bravura sequence, a home movie of the "pornographers" and their models begins innocently enough with fun and games(badminton and croquet); then out comes the rope, and a woman is tied to a tree(more fun and games; bondage), as Peggy Lee sings about "a good day" over the soundtrack. It's interesting to juxtapose this moment with the testimony of a man, later in the film, who blames Bettie's people(the Klaws, Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor) for the unexpected termination of a life. Did Bettie really sin? Is pornography, or even the existence of the female form, harmful? The latter, a question as old as Christianity itself when pertaining to "art". After her career, the pin-up queen is saved, but "you gotta sin to be saved". Bettie professes guilt over career in "modeling", band yet at the moment of their creation, she doesn't look at all guilty, in neither the nude nor the bondage sessions. I can't tell if this aspect of the filmmaker's storytelling is a little muddled, or that the intent is to keep Page on the enigmatic side, with fond remembrance. Mol is awesome. Full Review »