As usual, Dolly Parton was ahead of the curve. It’s taken us almost 60 years to catch up with her when she sang, “Just because I’m blonde don’t think I’m dumb” on her single “Dumb Blonde.” Films and TV have long poked and tweaked the dumb blonde archetype for laughs, from “Three’s Company” to “Legally Blonde,” but we’re moving into fresh territory with portrayals of sex positive women who refuse to allow their looks to put them in a box.
On “Minx,” porn model Bambi may initially seem like all she knows how to do is take off her clothes, but in Jessica Lowe’s show-stealing performance, she’s the most self-actualized woman at the feminist magazine at the center of the HBO Max standout. “‘Legally Blonde’ wouldn’t have been such a phenomenon if it wasn’t played by Reese Witherspoon. She went to Stanford,” Lowe told IndieWire. “And ‘Romy and Michelle’ is one of my favorite movies, and Mira Sorvino went to Harvard and graduated magna cum laude. All of these ‘dumb blondes’ are played by these brilliant women. And it’s not simple playing dumb!”
But Lowe also brings a sense of joy to Bambi, creating a woman who has no compunction about sex or nudity but is finding new avenues for her skills as the magazine’s new centerfold coordinator. There are plenty of jokes, but none of them are on Bambi. “Minx” is smart about the intersection of commerce and idealism, but it’s smarter about female sexuality and women’s relationships with their own bodies, something that trickles down by necessity to the performer.
“I feel like in Bambi’s world, this is the most clothes she’s ever worn,” Lowe said, laughing. “And in Jessica’s world, it’s the least.”
For Pamela Anderson, it never matters how much clothing she has on. She’ll always be the “Baywatch” star in a swimsuit, running down a beach in slow motion. That pain is a big part of Lily James’ passionate performance as Anderson on Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy,” where Anderson is shown to be the only one capable of seeing the full implications of the theft and release of the sex tape she made with husband Tommy Lee.
“Pam & Tommy” forced viewers to reconsider their opinions about Anderson and the tape over the course of its eight episodes, but nothing compares to Anderson’s reaction, in the penultimate episode, when a judge rules that stills from the stolen tape can be published in Penthouse.
“They can’t say the actual reason that I don’t have any rights,” she tells her attorney on the show. “Because I have spent my public life in a bathing suit. Because I had the nerve to pose for Playboy. They can’t actually say that sluts — and that’s what this ruling is saying I am, in case you’re unclear — they can’t actually say that sluts don’t get to decide what happens to pictures of their body.”
By the series’ end it has justified its existence — despite Anderson’s refusal to participate in its creation — by giving us a fully three-dimensional portrayal of a woman who became a punchline because she and her husband had the audacity to film themselves having sex for their own enjoyment.
Ti West’s new ‘70s-era slasher film “X” goes even further, showing adult performer Bobby-Lynne filming a sex scene that doesn’t automatically define her. In Brittany Snow’s incandescent portrayal, Bobby-Lynne is smart, tart, and as deeply knowledgeable about the art of filmmaking as any of the guys in charge of the porn production. At a gas station, she’s the one to find the angle for a shot that turns the mundane into the cinematic. In a different film, Bobby-Lynne would be launching her own production company by the closing credits. Here, alas, she meets the fate that most sexy blondes do in slasher films. But even that is brought on by compassion, not by wandering into a dark basement alone.
For Lowe, Bambi isn’t the first sexy blonde she’s played. “I remember sorta being like, ‘Why do I always play these roles?’” she said. “I think it’s because I sound like a baby who smokes. But I always always try to infuse a little bit of nuance into all of these roles I end up playing because it can’t just be bubbly and ebullient and just sweet and silly all the time.
“I think it’s crucial to engender humanity and nuance in these girls,” Lowe added. “We’re beyond just playing vapid one-note sex bombs.”