Anna Nicole Smith doc details the model’s path to stardom and scandalous collapse

In Netflix film ‘You Don’t Know Me,’ friends and relatives look back at her difficult childhood, her improbable marriage and her heartbreaking final years.

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Anna Nicole Smith celebrates a billboard from her Guess? Jeans campaign in an undated photo from “You Don’t Know Me.”

Netflix

“I would just advise people to follow their dreams. They can come true. I’m living proof.” – The first thing we hear from the titular subject of “Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me.”

This is the era of the streaming documentary that looks back at some of the most famous and infamous celebrities and scandals of the 1990s and 2000s from a fresh and often more enlightened perspective, from “Framing Britney Spears” to “Pamela, A Love Story,” from “This is Paris” to “Janet Jackson.,” from “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” to the Monica Lewinsky HBO documentary “15 Minutes of Shame.” Now comes the Netflix film “Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me,” a solid and straightforward look at the life and times of the small-town Texas girl who for a time in the 1990s was as famous as just about anyone on the planet, until it all fell apart in sadly foreseeable but heartbreaking and tragic fashion.

Like so many cautionary tales we’ve seen come out of Hollywood since there was a Hollywood, “You Don’t Know Me” is one long reminder to be careful what you wish for—because dreams that come true often arrive with tentacles attached. Director Ursula Macfarlane relies on the usual documentary tool bag of archival footage and photos; news footage; never-seen-before clips; present-day interviews with friends, relatives, associates and journalists, and a sprinkling of staged re-creations as we follow a linear timeline that begins in the dusty town of Mexia, Texas, where one Vickie Lynn Hogan grew up in difficult circumstances. She bounced between her mother’s home and her aunt’s house, dropped out of high school in her sophomore year, worked for four years at a local chicken joint, got married at 17, gave birth to a son, Daniel, and soon thereafter left her husband and moved with her baby to Houston, where she found work dancing at a strip club.

‘Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me’

Untitled

Netflix presents a documentary directed by Ursula Macfarlane. No MPAA rating. Running time: 116 minutes. Available Tuesday on Netflix.

A former dancer at the same club who became close friends with Smith and is identified only as “Missy” in the documentary recounts how Smith got breast implants and started taking various medications to deal with the pain—a habit that grabbed hold of her and never let go. Around this same time, Smith met J. Howard Marshall, a billionaire some 63 years her senior who would eventually become her husband. (The home-movie footage of Marshall and Smith is admittedly jarring, but there seems to be genuine affection between them. Still, when we hear phone messages of Marshall desperately trying to reach Smith, saying things such as, “This is your man, trying to find his lady fair,” and, “Your husband wants to talk to you. Please call me. Love you dearly,” it’s just … sad.)

Like thousands of other hopefuls every year, Vickie Lynn Hogan, who eventually changed her name, made the pilgrimage to L.A. with some vague but burning desire to become a star. Smith was an eye-catching beauty who sometimes resembled 1960s movie stars in photo shoots, and her appearance as a Playboy centerfold attracted the attention of Guess? Jeans co-founder Paul Marciano, who made Smith the centerpiece of an ad campaign that put her on the celebrity map. Just like that, Anna Nicole Smith was a star, with the tabloids and the paparazzi tailing her every move. (“She came alive when she would see us,” says one of those celebrity hounds, who says a brief clip of Anna Nicole could net between $5,000-$7,500.)

We see home video footage of Smith at the height of her fame, talking to an unidentified individual on the phone about being offered a role in “The Mask”: “It’s got Jim Carrey in it, that funny guy,” and a clip of Smith’s cameo in “The Hudsucker Proxy.” When Smith locates her biological father (whom she never knew) and biological brother, she flies them out to California and the camera is rolling to capture their initial meeting at LAX, when they find out the “Anna” who contacted them is in fact Anna Nicole Smith. For Smith, who was constantly in search of father figures, this seemed like the beginning of a fairy tale reunion, but it quickly goes sour. (Says Smith’s biological brother of their father: “He’s a monster. … I was always afraid of him.”)

“You Don’t Know Me” takes us through the often brutal paces of Smith’s life in the 2000s, from the embarrassing “reality” show on the E! cable network to the public appearances in which she often appeared disoriented and was slurring her speech, to the legal battles over Marshall’s $1.6 billion fortune, to the tragic death of her son Daniel in 2006, just three days after Smith had given her birth to a daughter, Dannielynn. A photo of Smith clutching her newborn baby, tears on her face, is absolutely heartbreaking.

The next year, Anna Nicole Smith would die the same way her son did, of an accidental overdose of a myriad of prescription medications. She was just 39. I’m not sure we ever got to really know Anna Nicole, but what we do know is she never found peace—not in small-town Texas, not in Houston, and certainly not in the spotlight.

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