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TELLURIDE — It’s not surprising that the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death has stimulated new books, TV shows and films. Liz Garbus’ beautifully-made documentary, Love, Marilyn, which had its world premiere in Telluride, is the latest addition to the canon. The newsworthy element behind this film is the discovery of Monroe’s diaries and letters that were buried in Lee Strasberg’s archives for decades. Anyone who expects bombshells from this new material will be disappointed, but the film provides a lucid, thoughtful distillation of Marilyn’s life story. Once it makes the rounds on the festival circuit, it should find an appreciative audience.
Garbus, the director of such acclaimed documentaries as The Farm: Angola USA and The Execution of Wanda Jean, has made some bold choices in crafting this film. She hired an intriguingly diverse group of actresses — including Glenn Close, Uma Thurman, Viola Davis and Lindsay Lohan — to read the excerpts from Marilyn’s diaries. Other actors read from some of the most provocative books about Marilyn: Ben Foster plays Norman Mailer, Jeremy Piven is Elia Kazan and Hope Davis is Gloria Steinem. Garbus has really done her homework. She retrieves one of the best pieces ever written about Marilyn — an essay by Truman Capote — and Adrien Brody eloquently articulates Capote’s insights. There are also brand new interviews with some of the people who knew Marilyn, along with excerpts from the interviews Marilyn gave during her life.
The film is superbly edited by Azin Samari. Samari and Garbus incorporate so many different elements that we are rarely bored, even when we’re watching familiar film clips (the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and revisiting her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. All of the new interviews are beautifully shot, and the archival material is shrewdly selected.
There’s only one problem with the film. It is organized around the discovery of Monroe’s diaries, and yet when we actually hear the excerpts, they turn out to tell us little that we don’t already know about the troubled star. She talks about her loneliness, her search for love, her desire for self-improvement. While it may be mildly interesting to hear her own words on these subjects, we don’t learn anything that hasn’t already been rehashed in hundreds of other articles and books. And the film has its own blinders. Perhaps because Garbus depended on the cooperation of the Strasberg estate, she’s a little too reticent in probing the limitations of Strasberg’s own influence on Monroe.
Still, these flaws are hardly fatal. As long as viewers aren’t anticipating startling revelations, they should find this film to be one of the most skillful and entertaining summaries of Marilyn’s endlessly fascinating rise and fall.
Cast: Glenn Close, Ellen Burstyn, Viola Davis, Lindsay Lohan, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, Ben Foster, Adrien Brody, Jeremy Piven, David Strathairn
Director-screenwriter: Liz Garbus
Producers: Liz Garbus, Stanley Buchthal, Amy Hobby
Executive producers: Anne Carey, Oliver Courson, Harold Van Lier, Enrique Steiger
Director of photography: Maryse Alberti
Music: Philip Sheppard
Editor: Azin Samari
No rating, 107 minutes
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