By Owen Gleiberman
December 11, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST
HBO

Love, Marilyn

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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

Love, Marilyn

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  • Movie
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  • PG-13
runtime
  • 105 minutes
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