‘Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me’ documentary review: A grubby examination of the tabloid sensation’s life 

Ursula Macfarlane’s documentary is a series of lurid headlines that reveal nothing of the woman it purports to be studying

May 22, 2023 01:11 pm | Updated May 23, 2023 01:19 pm IST

A still from ‘Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me’

A still from ‘Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

All through the 116 minutes of watching Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me, I was thinking of the reasons for watching it; I was watching to review it, of course, but would there be any other reason to watch this picturisation of a Wikipedia page? Why do people look at car crashes? Is it schadenfreude, the relief of a narrow escape, a “there but for the grace of god go I, “ or plain ghoulishness? That is the sense one gets from this documentary, which Netflix describes as a “humanizing examination of the life, death and secrets of Vickie Lynn Hogan — better known as a model and actress Anna Nicole Smith.”

Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me (English)
Director: Ursula Macfarlane
Cast: Anna Nicole Smith, Daniel Smith, Marilyn Grabowski 
Runtime: 116 minutes
Storyline: The life story of the controversial actor and model Anna Nicole Smith

There is definitely nothing humanizing unless it is showing Smith without make-up or going into graphic detail about her breast augmentation surgery — quite like that abortion from the vagina’s POV in Blonde, a similarly exploitative look at another American icon, Marilyn Monroe. The documentary seeks to draw a line between Smith and Monroe, showing her reading a book on Monroe and ending with a shot of Smith singing with a portrait of Monroe in the background.

More than Smith’s life being similar to Monroe’s it is the documentary’s similarity to Blonde that is morbid and sad. Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me starts at the very beginning and finishes at the end, with stops along the way of Smith’s transformation from teenage mom in Mexia, Texas, to stripper in Houston where she met 86-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall. There is the marriage, Marshall’s death, the court case, Smith’s battles with weight and drugs, the pregnancy, the many probable baby daddies, the death of her son, Daniel at 20, and her death in 2007.

Career-wise, the documentary follows her trajectory from waitressing at Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken in Mexia, where she met her first husband and Daniel’s father, the cook, Billy Wayne Smith, to becoming the Playboy Playmate of the Month in May 1992 and replacing Claudia Schiffer for the Guess jeans ad campaign.

One of the only fun things in the documentary is the fact that her movie career started as Za Za in 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy which is directed by Joel Coen, and written by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen and Sam Raimi! The documentary also shows the reasons for Smith choosing the role of Tanya Peters in Naked Gun 33+1⁄3: The Final Insult (1994), instead of The Mask. It was money that made her turn down the role — she was offered $50,000. Her reality TV show, The Anna Nicole Show, is mentioned as is her catastrophic 2004 appearance at the American Music Awards.

There are interviews with everyone who was willing to speak, including Smith’s lover, confidant and Daniel’s sometime nanny, Missy, who worked with her during the Houston stripper days when all the oil money turned into little grass skirts for the dancers, Playboy photo editor Marilyn Grabowski, brother Donald Hart, uncle George, step-brother Donnie Hogan, tabloid journalist Kevin Smith, personal assistant Nathan Collins, bodyguard Big Moe, and Dr Sandeep Kapoor who prescribed methadone for Smith in her eighth month of pregnancy.

There is nothing we get to know about Smith from the documentary or the zeitgeist, unlike Pam & Tommy, though there is a tangential mention of the sex tape. There are no reasons given for why she appropriated Missy’s story of child abuse or any of her other experiments with truth. There is definitely a story to tell about the explosion of celebrity culture when the thought that a clip of Smith would get $7500 would make the videographer’s hand tremble. It is, however, not this documentary as that one might have looked at the $5 million lawsuit Smith initiated against New York magazine for using a picture of her in a short skirt and cowboy boots eating chips for its White Trash Nation cover.

Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me currently streams on Netflix

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.