Film Review: Love, Marilyn

Say and film what you like about her, even in this somewhat wrongheaded if worshipful film portrait, Marilyn Monroe still triumphs just by being herself.

To the more than 1,000 books written about Marilyn Monroe and God knows how many films, documentarian Liz Garbus adds one more starry-eyed effort about the blonde bombshell who continues to obsess the world. The supposed motive behind Love, Marilyn was the recent discovery of a cache of Monroe’s own writings, which are quoted at length in the film by a variety of actors, including Glenn Close, Uma Thurman, Viola Davis, Marisa Tomei and, inevitably, Lindsay Lohan. Garbus also includes excerpts from writings about Monroe by the likes of Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Elia Kazan, Gloria Steinem and George Cukor, read by Ben Foster, Adrien Brody, Jeremy Piven, Hope Davis and Paul Giamatti, respectively.

The result is a mixture of the enlightening and the obnoxious, as many of the actors perform these lines as if auditioning for a biopic themselves, and their often overwrought, near-risible histrionics may have you judging their various performances more than actually attending to the words, which indeed are sometimes deeply revealing of Monroe’s nature. Perhaps it would have been better if we’d only heard their efforts rather than seen them, for at times the doc veers perilously close to resembling a cheesy dramatization, closer to the recent debacle Liz and Dick than the marvelous My Week with Marilyn. To mention just one example, the star of Liz and Dick, Lohan, is absurdly gotten up with flowing blonde Monroe-like locks to deliver her particularly numb contribution.

Whatever your reservations, because of the wonderful abundance of candid film clips showing the real-life Monroe, she emerges as something of a Teflon goddess, intact and more shimmering and heartbreakingly mesmerizing than ever. One is again startled, too, by the intimacy with which she encountered a press shouting the most personal questions at her—which she graciously almost always answers—in the days before armies of “handlers” rigidly controlled access to stars. Through triumph and tragedy, she remains her enchantingly lissome self, whether gazing up adoringly at an Arthur Miller who is described here as having ruthlessly used her, or weeping publicly over her break-up with Joe DiMaggio. You realize that none of her films was half as interesting as the actual movie that was her hectic life.

Garbus did manage to score some actual interviews with Monroe intimates, like her friend Eva Greene, which add some fresh dirt to this already more than well-trodden terrain. Although the doc aims to be comprehensive, it’s surprising what was left out of it, like the fact that Miller had a mentally challenged son by another wife, who was largely kept a secret throughout his life, or the tumultuous affair Monroe had, while wed to Miller, with her co-star Yves Montand, who was then married to Simone Signoret. The controversial—many say pernicious—influence of acting guru Lee Strasberg and his wife Paula on the vulnerable star is treated rather lightly here. The co-star and director of The Prince and the Showgirl, Laurence Olivier emerges as the villain of that episode, for his supposed lack of sympathy to the star, who was largely without Paula’s coaching expertise on the set, as she was ill at the time. There is no mention of how noxious it must have been for Olivier, who was hired by Monroe’s production company, to have another, highly hands-on director present.

Garbus’ obvious idolatry of the stars she managed to corral is also queasily evident over the end titles, which she intercuts with blooper outtakes that are highly unnecessary, not to mention jarring, and doubtlessly done without the actors’ consent.