Among the testimonies of people who knew Monroe, none delivers a greater amount of entertainment and insight than Amy Greene, wife of the late photographer Milton Greene and close friend of Monroe with innumerable anecdotes about the actress' behavior behind closed doors -- including discussion of her bedroom antics with husbands Joe Dimmagio and Arthur Miller.
While those two failed romances take up significant screen time for illustrating Monroe's inability to settle down, they're not the only puzzle pieces that help explain her relentless discontent. Seemingly everyone close to Monroe appears to leech off her fame, including her acting coach and psychoanalysts tasked with aiding her depressing. Their own telling reminiscences come through in fragments of memoirs and other revealing documents. Even Monroe's great acting guru, Lee Strassberg, takes Monroe under his wing with dubious intentions and forces her into a new phase of unrealistic expectations. If "Love, Marilyn" makes any definitive statements on Monroe's career, it's that she couldn't get a break.
When that grows clearer, the slew of actors peppering the movie finally have an impact by drawing out the shifting emotional tenor of Monroe's rollercoaster career. Among them, Marisa Tomei stands out for embodying Monroe's alternately inquisitive and shy musings on her state of affairs. Glenn Close, Viola Davis and Elizabeth Banks also deliver inspiring turns, while Lindsay Lohan briefly surfaces to recall the actress' ill-fated experience while shooting the infamous billowing dress scene from "The 7 Year Itch."
Extending beyond Monroe's voice, a number of male actors provide faces for the reminiscences of the men in her life. Ben Foster provides Norman Mailer's evocative account of the actress' career, while Adrian Brody reads the memories of Truman Capote recalling his friendship with Monroe. Then there are the exasperated collaborators: Paul Giamatti as George Cukor and Oliver Platt as Billy Wilder both display those filmmakers' ire over the whimsical Monroe's onset antics, although others provide a counterpoint: The highest praise comes from "Bus Stop" director Joshua Logan, who describes Monroe's skill as "a combination of Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin."
If Monroe's abilities truly contained that much depth, it helps explain her dwindling interest in the career opportunities thrust upon her. Outtakes from Cukor's unfinished "Something's Got to Give," shot only a few months before Monroe's death, display her apparent boredom when faced with material deemed beneath her interests. (The movie also provides fresh context on her classic birthday performance for JFK by pointing out that she left the Cukor production to appear before the president, resulting in her dismissal from the film).
Since "Love, Marilyn" opens with Monroe's death, by the time it comes full circle the event arrives with fresh context. Apparently more upbeat at the time of her demise, Monroe's death remains a tantalizing secret that the movie probes without getting conspiratorial.
Attempts to explore Monroe's off-screen persona in narrative form, including last year's "My Week With Marilyn" and Nicolas Roeg's "Insignificance," tend to embellish on the actress' personality by nature of their interpretative format. "Love, Marilyn" achieves greater clarity by letting the actress lead the way. As her struggle congeals, the collection of performances gain a strong justification: For over a decade, the actress battled to reconcile her public image with her true self. Sifting through the many faces that play her in "Love, Marilyn," so must we.
Criticwire grade: B+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Destined for distribution with a company that can play up its potential on VOD, "Love, Marilyn" is also likely to find warm reception at numerous film festivals. Its next stop is in Toronto.