(out of 5)
She became a superstar in 1952 and a decade later was no more. The short life of Marilyn Monroe has had one of the greatest impacts on popular culture of any superstar in Hollywood, fifty years deceased and still a far more famous cinematic icon than some of the biggest stars to shine since. Her combination of “dumb blonde” charm, a body that wouldn’t quit, and a surprising knack for cracking wise when given the chance justified her fame, not to mention the fact that her super-photogenic looks never inspired a camera to be unkind to her even once. She is also one of the most well-known, easily identified examples of the dark side of fame, raised to the highest pedestal before personal insecurity and a tragic addiction to drugs destroyed her completely. There have been films, books, documentaries and she still graces the covers of countless magazines. Not much is left to be said about the blonde bombshell, so who needs another documentary about her? Liz Garbus had all this against her when she set out on her journey to tell another story of Monroe’s life, and she does so to incredible effect with this loving elegy. Recently discovered diaries and letters reveal personal, intimate thoughts of the legend that were never known before and, between biographical information, film clips and countless still photographs, Garbus has hired a host of terrific actors to enact these writings as dramatic monologues. Assigning them generally to various aspects of Marilyn’s life and career (though not to a strident extent), we have (among others) Marisa Tomei portraying the optimistic actress, Uma Thurman as the hopeless romantic, Lindsay Lohan revealing Marilyn’s reactions to her own notoriety, Glenn Close with biographical information, Viola Davis as the self-doubting skeptic, and Jennifer Ehle as the actress looking to develop her craft. There’s also Adrien Brody portraying Truman Capote and Ben Foster as Norman Mailer, plus a whole host more though they are not all equally effective: Evan Rachel Wood is great but not given the same meaty dialogue that others receive, while Elizabeth Banks never goes beyond the surface with her steel-trap eyes and false delivery. On top of this are interviews with friends and colleagues that combine to make something spellbinding: it’s a documentary told entirely from the inside, an experience that well overcomes the few flaws. You know Marilyn’s life, but here you are not listening to it, you are living it with her, and the result is staggering in its intensity and emotional poignancy. Anyone with the slightest bit of interest in Hollywood Babylon should rush to see this.
Directed by Liz Garbus
Screenplay by Liz Garbus, from the memoirs of Truman Capote, Elia Kazan, Natasha Lytess, the personal papers of Ralph Greenson, Marilyn Monroe, the books by Norman Mailer, Gloria Steinem, the play by Arthur Miller, the poem by Norman Rosten, the letters of Billy Wilder
Cinematography by Maryse Alberti
Music by Philip Sheppard
Production Design by Michael Barton
Film Editing by Azin Samari