Liz Garbus’ latest documentary, Love, Marilyn (2012), opens with a bold gambit; reminding us that its subject has previously been the focus of hundreds of books. This move creates an immediate air of expectation that will lead viewers to anticipate something startlingly new from what is to follow. The trump card that Garbus has up her sleeve is the recent discovery of the star’s personal journals which offer the potential for revelations and a more intimate portrait than ever before. Sadly, whilst it proves stylistically innovative and emotionally thoughtful, Love, Marilyn rarely offers a deeper insight into the Hollywood icon.
In order to relay Monroe’s story, Garbus has pulled together an eclectic group of actors to read extracts not just from the newly published journals, but also a range of the other books mentioned at the outset. Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood and even Lindsay Lohan all provide readings from the papers whilst a similarly diverse array of actors add their voices to contemporaries. Ben Foster is excellent as Norman Mailer, whilst Adrien Brody, Paul Giamatti, Stephen Lang and Jeremy Piven also contribute. Interspersed with these readings is a wealth of finely-edited archival footage. For diehard fans of the blonde bombshell, this all makes for enjoyable, if unremarkable viewing.
There are some moments of wonderful clarity from various sources, including Monroe herself, but a lot of what’s relayed is arguably old hat and fails to deliver something truly unique. What is unique and easy to appreciate is the work done by this range of actors in trying to bring Marilyn and those that knew her to life. There are some excellent readings and the very idea for the approach – present a human side to this most recognisable of icons – lends the doc an air of novelty even the material itself lacks such a quality. It’s a valiant attempt to make this investigation a more personal one in every aspect, something which we’ve not really been presented on the big screen before.
The use of Monroe’s own words is reflected in the use of some personal photos and behind-the-scenes footage (similarly unearthed recently) that give the whole piece a sense of being allowed to look behind the curtain more than previously. That what is revealed is largely an echo of that already in the public domain will likely be what puts some viewers off, but Garbus’ Love, Marilyn remains a tender, gracious and inventive examination either way.