Earlier tonight, I watched Part One of the latest Lifetime original movie, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.
Why Was I Watching It?
Lifetime has been advertising The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe for about two months now. From the first commercial, I knew that this was something that I was going to have to watch. After all, a movie about a famous and tragic actress on the always melodramatic Lifetime network? How could I not watch?
What Was It About?
It’s right there in the title. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe tells the story of how poor country girl Norma Jean Baker became the iconic Marilyn Monroe. The first part of this two-part film dealt with Marilyn’s early years. We watched as Marilyn (played by Kelli Garner) made her way out to Hollywood and appeared in her first few films, all the while dealing with her mentally unstable mother, Grace (Susan Sarandon). Part One ended with Marilyn on the verge of becoming the world’s biggest star. It was a happy ending for Marilyn but not so much for the audience because we know what’s going to happen to her during Part II.
The first part of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe was everything that you could possibly want from a Lifetime movie. The costumes, the production design, the cinematography — it was all properly opulent and wonderful to look at.
Even more importantly, Part One was anchored by three wonderful performances from three great actresses. Susan Sarandon was heartbreaking and poignant as Marilyn’s unstable mother. Emily Watson brought a quiet strength to the role of Marilyn’s surrogate mother, Grace. And finally, there’s Kelli Garner in the title role. After years of doing good work in small roles (Bully, Lars and The Real Girl), The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe finally gives Kelli Garner a chance to show what she’s capable of doing as an actress. In part one, Garner gave a performance that both humanized an icon while also suggesting the legend that she would eventually become.
What Did Not Work?
The film’s framing device, in which Marilyn told her story to a psychologist played by Jack Noseworthy, occasionally felt a bit awkward. Otherwise, as far as the first half of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe was concerned, it all worked.
“Oh my God! Just like me!” Moments
Obviously, I don’t want to sit here and compare myself to Marilyn Monroe. I’ll leave that for others to do. However, I do have to say that there were quite a few “Oh my God! Just like me!” moments in the first part of The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe. That was one reason why the film worked so well — it took an iconic figure and humanized her to the extent that anyone viewing could relate to her.
There were many moments that I related to during part one, particularly when it came to Marilyn’s emotional vulnerability and her desire to be seen as something more than just another pretty face. In fact, there were more than a few times that I had to look away from the screen because, often, Marilyn’s pain was my pain.
Ultimately, though, the biggest “OMG! Just like me!” moment came at the start of the film when Marilyn spent over an hour trying on different outfits before greeting the psychologist waiting in the next room. I’m just as obsessive, especially when it comes to picking the right clothes for a doctor’s appointment.
(Seriously, I once spent an entire day putting together the perfect outfit for seeing the allergist.)
Fame can’t buy happiness but it can come awfully close. (Of course, I have a feeling that lesson will be invalidated once I watch the second part of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.)
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