|Yes, fellas - she can read, too.|
Quite the catch, I'd say!!!
Love, Marilyn (2012) ***1/2
Dir. Liz Garbus
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Paul Giamatti, Lindsay Lohan, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Based on the book "Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters" edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment, multi-award winning filmmaker Liz (Bobby Fischer Against the World, Killing in the Name & The Farm: Angola, USA) Garbus has, with Love, Marilyn, crafted a deeply moving biographical portrait of movie star Marilyn Monroe that's as eminently compelling as it is, from beginning to end, relentlessly sad.
How could it be otherwise?
Monroe was a sensitive, intelligent young woman orphaned at an early age (her single Mom and Grandmother were both mentally ill and abusive), then shunted from one foster home to another until she married to escape this horrendous, loveless life. It would be the first of three failed marriages in her short life.
Garbus concerns herself mostly with Monroe's Hollywood years where she rose to stardom and delivered one successful picture after another. The grosses generated by all her films were so astonishingly high that they were primarily responsible for saving the financially ailing 20th Century Fox from complete collapse.
And the world loved Marilyn.
Drawing from a two scrap boxes of Marilyn's personal writings that became the aforementioned book as well as published writings by a myriad of figures who touched her life, Garbus presents Monroe's words - performed by a variety of great actors - against a beautifully edited backdrop of archival footage, photos and interviews. Instead of choosing to leave the words behind picture, Garbus simply and elegantly chooses to shoot the actors on-screen as they recite Monroe's words (as well as those of Billy Wilder, Arthur Miller, Gloria Steinem, Norman Mailer and, among others, George Cukor). In the opening few minutes, I found this off-putting - more, I think, due to my expectation that I'd be hearing everything off-camera, but the gorgeously fluid editing, simple but apt lighting of the actors and the well-chosen elements presented to tell Marilyn's story all began to weave a special magic and I was unable to keep my eyes off the screen.
Some of the performances by the all-star cast are better than others, but those that truly shine are the ones where the actors invest themselves wholly in the words and create genuine characters that they've interpreted with skill and artistry, and more often than not, render extremely powerful and poignant deliveries.
This is clearly not a definitive representation of Monroe, but frankly, what could be? If Love, Marilyn proves anything it's the fact that Monroe was an incredibly complex human being who reached for the stars with passion, determination and a real business sense. Even more fascinating is how Garbus conveys the fact that Marilyn created a persona for herself - not just on-screen, either. Marilyn did everything in her power to create a new person to mask her shattered, tragic past to both the world AND, kind of creepily, but brilliantly - HERSELF.
She created a character and lived it.
And whilst living the life of the person she created herself, it's clear, in spite of her endless sexual dalliances, that her career ambitions demanded - on an emotional, personal level - love. She gets, it seems, a lot of love from her second husband Joe Dimaggio, but that she was sadly unable to wholly reciprocate, but even more tragic is seeing her third husband, Arthur Miller, using her as both a meal ticket and a prize trophy. Here, we see Marilyn GIVING love like she never had before and sadly discovering what her husband truly thought about her. What Miller did to Monroe is sickening.
The comma in the film's title, representing her sign-offs on notes and letters, takes on dimensions of tragedy when we remove the comma - LOVE MARILYN. Obviously, it conjures the notion that we all, the world, did indeed love Marilyn, but for me, all I can think about is that it's almost a plea to those who abused her - especially Miller - that all they really needed to do was love her.
The other fascinating aspect of her life are the days she spent in New York with famed Actors Studio coach Lee Strasberg. In some ways, the portrait Garbus presents here (along with Marilyn's reliance upon quack psychoanalysts and her traumatizing incarceration within an asylum) displays both an almost unquenchable thirst to better herself as an actress and alternately an almost self-destructive need to open herself up to the manipulations of others. Strasberg's intensive use of sense memory seems, at least within the context of Garbus's film, to be one of (if not the MOST) damaging assaults upon her. The last thing Monroe needed was to confront those parts of her life she repressed (I think for good reason). Weirdly, in spite of everything we experience up to this point - her willingness to be exploited sexually to move up the ladder, the horrendous assumptions on the parts of so many that she was stupid as well as the eerie aforementioned creation of a new person within herself - her time in New York feels like a turning point - one that plunges her and us, the audience, into the abyss that was Marilyn Monroe.
Garbus creates a truly evocative portrait of an artist and human being who was used and abused - a receptacle for the sperm of all those men who would demand complete domination of her body and spirit. She gave so much, but got, in return, scorn. And though the world loved her, she was, in death - as she was in life - truly and utterly alone.
The movie is a heartbreaker.
"Love, Marilyn" is currently in limited release via Mongrel Media. Torontonians can see the film at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For tickets and info, visit TIFF HERE.