Liz Garbus, director, writer and co-producer of this feature documentary.
Starring: Marilyn Monroe (in archival footage) and F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Banks, Adrien Brody, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Hope Davis, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Ben Foster, Paul Giamatti, Jack Huston, Stephen Lang, Lindsay Lohan, Janet McTeer, Jeremy Piven, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood
She’s been gone for more than 50 years but the legend of Marilyn Monroe keeps on growing. Articles and books about her continue to proliferate, following a tradition set by such writers as Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Gloria Steinem. She’s extolled by women, who respond to her mutable personality: vulnerable and terrifyingly insecure and yet possessing an inner strength and drive, which made her a star. Men still lust after her, dead all these years, thanks to the magic of cinema and photography, which has kept her image as glowing and seductive as ever.
Top doc-maker Liz Garbus, whose recent hits include Bobby Fischer Against the World and Killing in the Name Of, responded to the half centenary of Monroe’s death and the recent discovery of a cache of letters that the star had written to her acting teacher and mentor Lee Strasberg, by making the feature documentary Love, Marilyn. In it, a who’s who of actors read from Marilyn’s letters as well as pieces by Mailer, Capote, Steinem and others. Intercut with scenes from such Monroe hits as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, photos ranging from her infamous nude shots for a 1949 calendar (and later reprinted in the first issue of Playboy) to wonderfully intimate portraits by long-time friend Milton Greene and interviews with Greene’s widow Amy and others who knew Marilyn, Garbus has created a memorable profile of an elusive blonde who seems destined to never leave the public’s imagination.
Most moving and challenging are the readings by Uma Thurman, Elizabeth Banks, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Viola Davis and Jennifer Ehle, who take on the persona of Monroe, giving emotion and depth to their every movement, intonation and gesture. Tomei and Wood play out Monroe’s vulnerability; Lohan, her helplessness and Davis, her anger. Banks comes closest to replicating the beautiful blonde bombshell appeal while Ehle offers a wonderfully crafted performance that shows us the multiple Monroe—the conflicted woman, star, shattered personality and sexy icon. (Why doesn’t Ehle get more deserving roles?)
What Garbus has achieved here is truly remarkable. She’s offered a kaleidoscopic profile of a woman who never resolved her own contradictions. Perhaps that was Monroe’s great appeal: that she could be so astonishingly beautiful—and know it—and still be tragically unfulfilled. Maybe the love offered to her in death is the balm she was seeking. Certainly this brilliant tribute to her is one of the greatest works of art ever inspired by the icon that is Marilyn Monroe, and it’s a fitting addition to her cultural shrine.