Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me (2023) Netflix Documentary Review: ‘Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me,’ directed by Ursula Macfarlane, is a tragic documentary that is now streaming on Netflix. It tells the story of Anna Nicole Smith, a deeply adored popular person who spent most of her life in the spotlight. As a result of almost always being in the public eye, she became subjected to their unabashed love as well as blunt scrutiny.
The two-hour documentary follows the unknown aspects of Anna’s life and presents a sympathetic portrait of this late artist. Besides being a biographical documentary, it also appears to be an attempt to take a closer look at the fame and beauty-obsessed toxic culture that enabled many of her vices to reach the extremes.
The film has a conventional narrative structure, which initially gives an insight into Anna’s life and her tragic end and then backtracks it through the events of her life. Being born in Texas, she had a fairly ordinary life. She mentions how she wasn’t one of the popular students in the high school. However, her close relatives share anecdotes of how Anna made others catch their breath. This aspect of beauty dictated many of the decisions in her life thereafter.
From Anna’s early days working at a club to her eventual rise to extreme stardom, the documentary examines her life through a sympathetic lens. Anna’s colleague from that club notes Anna’s naivety from the early days – when she wanted to take care of Anna out of genuine concern. They later became close friends to the point she admits to being in love with Anna.
Among her health concerns, Anna had to face many as a result of her breast surgery. We see her visit her hometown and her school in documentary-style footage where she expresses admiration toward her current body image, and you can’t help but feel sorry for her. She chose to go through this painful treatment since she did not fit into the beauty norms according to what the male gaze had appropriated by then.
The same follows in the later life of Anna, where her identity as a model makes people feel entitled to share any opinions they want. In a widely popular talk show for years, the host and the guests ridiculed how much weight she had gained. A certain image that allowed her to be a popular model for Playboy magazine and Guess Jeans then trapped her. These people expected her to be only that way.
Besides exploring that aspect, the documentary takes a closer look into Anna’s relationship with an elderly oil tycoon who blessed her with several riches. He also ensured Anna and her son – Daniel’s safety, which made her infatuated with him.
The assumption of Anna being a gold digger also surfaced back then. The man’s son saw it the same way and did not want her to snatch his father’s wealth. The son’s attorney let Anna do the talking to prove his side of the case, where she came across as a person attuned to maintaining a certain lifestyle.
That is another theme that the film largely explores – how fame, status, and beauty standards entrap people in certain lifestyles and enslave them to fit in with that status symbol. The unfortunate loss in the court case led to Anna’s character assassination. It shattered her likable public image. Her brand deals also got canceled in the wake of the bad press.
Nevertheless, Anna craved love and attention in one or the other way. To fill the hole in her heart, she looked at fame as a source of recognition. She did things that may look unnecessary from an outward perception. But the film compassionately deals with how her loneliness drove her to feel this urge.
While plainly judging Anna’s questionable decisions over the years would have been an easy way out, the film neatly explores how several men kept wanting to benefit from her life. Be it the lack of a father figure or a friend she only wanted to have a word with, the men took benefit of her insecurities or needs. Some even considered it a thing to brag about. So, while being a biographical film through lesser-seen footage, the documentary also provides a potent cultural portrait of the time she lived in.