Film Title: Love, Marilyn
Director: Liz Garbus
Starring: Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, Lindsay Lohan, Viola Davis
Running Time: 107 min
Marilyn Monroe suffered, in her lifetime, enough abuse from the misogynists who ran Hollywood – and from those who hung around that place – for us to forgive any contemporary documentarist for leaning towards hagiography when addressing her troubled life. Still, the reverence directed at the actor in Liz Garbus’s sincere, nicely produced film is, at times, more than a little hard to swallow.
The trigger for the film was the recent discovery, in the home of acting coach Lee Strasberg, of two boxes packed with her writings. Garbus has gathered together a stunning array of stars to read each document as if it were a missing codicil to the Gettysburg Address. Ellen Burstyn, Linsday Lohan, Paul Giamatti are among those contributing rolled consonants and rich vowels. Fine archive footage and commentary from contemporary boffins round out the package.
After Garbus’s less fussy work on the excellent Bobby Fischer Against the World, the approach seems particularly startling.
But, for all its oddness, the film does eventually win you over. We don’t really need to see Uma Thurman casting her eyes to the skies as if delivering an audition piece. The sheer variety of voices is somewhat discombobulating. But the collage of unlikely documents – letters, notes, even a recipe – helps to establish an intimate portrait of an actress often overpowered by iconography. For too long, various male blowhards (yes, Norman Mailer does pop up here) have sought to define Monroe in terms of their own grubby desires. Love, Marilyn may have the feel of a celebrity-led gala tribute. But there is enough of the real woman on display to set it apart from those earlier pompous screeds.
The appeal endures. There’ll be more where this came from.