The New Yorker Reviews "Love, Marilyn" in new Lindsay Lohan & Marilyn Monroe article, EW Grade A Rev
HAPPY GIRLS: LINDSAY LOHAN AND MARILYN MONROE
Posted by Richard Brody
Here’s Marilyn Monroe, interviewed on February 25, 1956, upon her return to Hollywood for the filming of “Bus Stop.” Part of this clip, along with the story behind it, is featured in Liz Garbus’s fascinating new documentary, “Love, Marilyn,” which opens at Film Forum tomorrow. Monroe had the notion that she was being underpaid compared to other actresses—notably, Elizabeth Taylor—and walked away from her contract with 20th Century Fox just when her popularity was at its apex. She came to New York and studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio—a turn that gave rise to the film, which Garbus made largely on the basis of letters, diaries, and notebooks of Monroe’s that ended up in the Strasberg archives.
Look at Marilyn Monroe, about twenty seconds into the clip, when a journalist “asks,” without a question mark at the end of the sentence, “You’re a happy girl now.” The infinitesimal silence that goes with her dubious glance—a tightly controlled eye-roll—away from the interviewer, followed by her ironic verbal shrug (a melodic “uh-h” with a subtly derisive smile), suggests the equivalent of, “You have no idea.” It’s in that sudden abyss of true and horrific emotion in the midst of the most conventionally candied context that encapsulates Monroe’s art—and art it is.
Marilyn Monroe got no respect. She may have been beloved by the public, or a certain segment of it, but she was never nominated for an Oscar—not for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” not for “The Seven Year Itch,” not for “Some Like It Hot,” not for any of her supporting roles. There were as many ambient prejudices on the part of critics and sophisticated viewers back then on the subject of what constitutes good acting as there are now. Lindsay Lohan’s performance in the rather mediocre TV film “Liz & Dick” (which, however—I should have mentioned—features the admirable script conceit of a virtual posthumous interview with the protagonists) received unfortunately (and unwarrantedly nasty) negative reviews. My post earlier this week highlighting her performance and praising her (sadly derailed) career attracted some outraged comments. Unfortunately, the news of Lohan’s latest clash with the law only diverts attention even further from her work and makes her an easy target of ridicule for cruel and ghoulish observers who would find her problems anything other than painful to contemplate.
It’s too soon to know whether Lohan is in Monroe’s league (is anyone?)—she hasn’t had enough adult roles or enough good directors yet—but she did some extraordinary work before turning twenty, the age at which Norma Jeane Baker signed her first movie contract and took her nom d’écran. Despite the gaps that Lohan’s travails have torn in her career and the holes they have likely torn in her psyche, her very presence, in a movie such as “Liz & Dick,” comes packed with an intensity and an anguish that perhaps no other actor of her generation can offer, regardless of technical skill. Lohan isn’t the first great actress to confront addiction and other personal crises, but she has the misfortune to be living in an age of total exposure, when no studio publicist or code of silence can restrain reports of her sufferings as well as of her escapades, and her performance in “Liz & Dick” has a built-in echo chamber and mirror that cast the tabloid horrors of her recent life back onto her.
This is true of Monroe, too. Her best performances pose the vertiginous question of mask and identity—a question that’s all the more disturbing given her overtly seductive, faux-dumb persona. Garbus’s documentary shows the poignant extent to which Monroe cultivated an image that she knew would sell—and then came to be identified with it. The film has the great merit of recovering the private voice from behind the screen and tabloid celebrity. One of Monroe’s most moving performances is the one that seems to come from beyond the grave—it’s from the 1962 film “Something’s Got to Give,” from which she was fired soon before her death and which was never completed. The remaining footage, however, has been put together. It’s a remake of the 1940 comedy “My Favorite Wife,” with Monroe playing a woman who, having spent years shipwrecked aboard a desert island and being declared dead, returns home to find her husband remarried. Monroe comes through the gate six minutes in; she has the magical, floating, unreal aspect of a ghost. She hadn’t worked for more than a year, and she seemed to be returning from far away to a place where she belonged but may not have been welcome.
As Garbus shows, Monroe built her persona on a defiance of the era’s taboos as well as a compliance with (even an exaggeration of) its stereotypes. Our own era’s codes are amorphous and permeable. The breakdown of the barrier between the public and the private makes acting an even riskier business, and plenty of young performers respond with a prudent and responsible professionalism, the supreme value of the age. The definition of their risk is physical, not moral. I don’t think that Lohan’s troubles with substance abuse, with family, with discipline, and with the law do anything to serve her art (they’re surely terrible for her career), but they’re inseparable from it. And—strangely, disturbingly, unjustly—they render her more of a pariah than Monroe ever was.
Three years from now; a press junket for a film; a brazen interviewer who tells the twenty-nine-year-old Lohan: “You’re a happy girl now.” Let’s hope no interviewer is so brazen as to call her a girl. Nonetheless, I’d bet that her response would be as worthy of the ages.
"Love, Marilyn" features Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Lindsay Lohan, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood. Rounding out this portrait, Adrien Brody, Hope Davis, Ben Foster, Paul Giamatti, Janet McTeer, Oliver Platt and David Strathairn bring to life the writings of Billy Wilder, Natasha Lytess, Truman Capote, Gloria Steinem and Norman Mailer, completing the image of this very flesh-and-blood young woman in thrall to ambition, imagination, demons, and fear who, over time, came to embrace life, friendship, and the possibility of her future.
Watching Liz Garbus' magical documentary Love, Marilyn, I realized not just how much we don't know about Marilyn Monroe but how a lot of what we think we know is more of a construct than a reality. Garbus is working from a treasure trove of new material: boxes of the star's highly confessional and introspective letters and diaries, which were found only recently. Actresses like Glenn Close, Viola Davis, and a fantastic Uma Thurman read the excerpts, and listening to Monroe's own words, we hear her voice and glimpse her soul as never before. We also watch her in never-before-seen interviews, photographs, and home movies, some of which were shot when she wasn't wearing makeup. That's a good metaphor for what the film achieves: It presents Marilyn without the cosmetic cover of her mythologies.
Most of us consider Marilyn Monroe a born star with modest acting skills, but Love, Marilyn deepens the argument that the ditzy, dim-bulb ''Marilyn'' was every inch a performance, and a brilliant one. (Lee Strasberg thought she was as great a talent as Brando.) Much of her more unstable behavior can be linked to prescription drugs, and had she come up in the rehab era, she might have triumphed over the demons that came to define her. If so, maybe she'd now be seen as the figure captured by Love, Marilyn: not just the quintessential sex symbol of the 20th century but, in the sheer scale of her self-invention, a trendsetter for the 21st. A