Love, Marilyn - Cinema Review

'The iconic actress is set up as something of a mythological figure from the get-go... Garbus never relinquishes her fanatical view of Monroe as a pure, tragic victim at any point'

Remove the single piece of punctuation from the title of director Liz Garbus’ documentary, and you’ve got an imperative phrase which sums up the message of her film both succinctly and accurately. If Garbus has her way, you will love Marilyn Monroe unreservedly by the time the credits roll.

That’s not to say the director is entirely successful in this aim. Garbus makes it clear that she is incredibly biased towards her subject from the opening moments, providing genuinely jaw-dropping statistics on how much has been written about Monroe in the half-century since her death. The iconic actress is set up as something of a mythological figure from the get-go, elevated to being much more than a model and actress in the director’s eyes. Garbus never relinquishes her fanatical view of Monroe as a pure, tragic victim at any point throughout the film.

Whilst this works well some of the time, especially when chronicling Monroe’s early career trying to break free of the sexpot and “dumb blonde” personas she was restricted to in her inaugural features, it becomes quite tiresome as the film progresses. By the final third, you’ll find yourself rolling your eyes as Garbus paints Monroe for the umpteenth time as being preyed upon by a ruthless industry, never entertaining even the notion that the actress could at times perhaps be shrewd and underhanded in her own way. It also means certain elements of Monroe’s life are notably glossed over; the famous birthday serenade to JFK is given extremely short shrift, whilst Monroe’s alleged affair with the President is omitted completely.

The extensive cast involved comprises Love, Marilyn’s main gambit in distinguishing itself from more by-the-numbers documentaries. The actors read from diaries, letters and biographies of key figures in Monroe’s life, as well as the personal notes, journals and correspondence of the actress herself. It’s an unusual move by Garbus, and ultimately one which fails at least as often as it pays off. The strongest performances here come from veterans such as Paul Giamatti and F. Murray Abraham, both of whom take on one “character” each from Monroe’s life. In contrast, Garbus has several actresses reading from Monroe’s own writings, whose renderings run the gamut from skilfully understated (Glenn Close) to distractingly overcooked (Uma Thurman). Many of the performances here ultimately just feel too theatrical or exaggeratedly dramatic to work, as if the actors are delivering their monologues to audition for parts in a stage play. The choice of what is being read is also erratic at times. Whoever thought that getting an actress to do a dramatic reading of a chicken recipe Monroe once jotted down was a good idea was sorely mistaken.

Stripped to its foundations, Love, Marilyn is a perfectly solid if unremarkable documentary on the life of Marilyn Monroe. It regularly relies quite heavily on the natural enigma of Monroe, and rarely has much to say that hasn’t already been said about its subject - it’s biggest failing considering the recently unearthed material penned by Monroe herself at its core. But whilst Garbus’ view is undeniably one-sided, it’s also one clearly fuelled by a passion for the actress, her life and work, which regularly comes through in the director’s film. Love, Marilyn ends up at least partially as a wasted opportunity, but certainly not a waste of time entirely.

Love, Marilyn is on limited release in UK cinemas from Friday 18th October and is released on DVD on Monday 28th October.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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