The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015)
Lifetime / TVMA
Biography / Drama
Starring: Kelli Garner, Susan Sarandon, Emily Watson
Director: Laurie Collyer
At this point, the wild and tragic life of cultural and sexual icon Marilyn Monroe has been explored by everyone and their father. Their almost a dime a dozen. Books have been written and documentaries have been made, picking apart almost every aspect of her short and troubled life. What makes it all fascinating is the amount of info that she was able to keep away from the media for the longest time. It is what makes these documentaries riveting. Lifetime’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe is yet another biopic about the dark secrets that Monroe managed to keep to herself. It manages to keep itself fresh, albeit some problems.
The two-part made-for-TV movie tells the story of Monroe within the sometimes awkward frame of a psychotherapy session. Monroe, played by Kelli Garner, talks through the many different aspects of her life that eventually lead to her tragic end. Dr. DeShields (Jack Noseworthy) is earnest in learning about her life story, but at times this leads to some awkward writing which at times seemed clunky. It was meant to drive the different parts of the documentary.
One of the things that provides the backbone for the biopic is Monroe’s mother and her mental issues. Gladys, played by Susan Sarandon, is painted as a troubled woman with a dark story. The movie sets this as the prime reason for Monroe’s troubled childhood. She was an orphan for most of her childhood life and it is assumed that some of her own mental issues where a direct contribution from her mother. In between bouts with her mom, her main caregiver was her aunt Grace McKee (Emily Watson) who raised her to be the model and actress that she slowly began to morph into, much to her real mother’s dismay.
The first part of the biopic depicts Monroe’s childhood and the second part really starts to tell the tale of Monroe’s downward spiral thanks to her problems with men and drugs. We see a lot of her relationship with retired Yankee Joe DiMaggio (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the problems that arose from the marriage. We also see the relationship with playwright Arthur Miller (Stephan Bogaert) that also had its fair share of problems, including Monroe’s miscarriage. Towards the end, we have a brief look at Monroe’s affair with President Kennedy, which I would have loved to seen explored more. All of these things, along with her zealous use of prescription drugs, eventually leads to her death, which was a result of an overdose of barbiturates. The movie ends in ambiguous fashion, showing Monroe take some pills before going to bed. We are treated to one of the documentaries most touching scenes between Monroe and her mother on a beach, right around the time when Monroe was really starting to get noticed. It’s what the young starlet always wanted, but the depressing scene makes us realize that you have to be careful about what you wish for.
In terms of Garner’s performance as the iconic figure, there are some things that could have been done better. First off, she looked more like Kelli Garner than Marilyn Monroe herself. I realize that finding an actress that matches the look of Monroe is quite a feat, but she did not always seem like the right fit. With enough make up, she looked fine, but there were some points where I noticed she did not look quite right. She also does an okay job at mimicking the actresses’ iconic voice, but at points Garner’s portrayal of the voice was almost overdone and exaggerated. Monroe was always typecast as the “dumb blonde” (see her movies like Gentleman Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire) and Garner is bubbly and flirtatious, but to an extreme at different parts of the feature.
Although Garner’s performance could have been better, I really enjoyed the performances brought on by the supporting cast. Emily Watson and Susan Sarandon did a wonderful job of playing Monroe’s closest family. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who played Joe DiMaggio, turned out to be one of my favorite characters from the feature. The second part of the documentary really focuses on his dynamic character, a man jealous of Monroe’s fame. He goes through a lot of emotions but ends up becoming the good guy by the end, one of the few people that was always there for the actress.
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe does not give us any new bits of information about Marilyn Monroe’s life, but it manages to keep things fresh with a story told through a different lenses. I would not consider it a grade-a look at the troubled star’s life, marred by Garner’s portrayal of Monroe, but she does a serviceable job of telling one of the most intriguing, and maybe depressing, stories about the types of problems that come with living life in the lights of Hollywood.