I feel a need to defend this movie, at least against the charges that it doesn't present accurate characterizations of Marilyn Monroe. First of all, for someone to decide that Mira Sorvino plays Marilyn as an extension of her screen persona and not as she "really was" is specious at best. The way public figures behave off-camera isn't exactly something we as an audience can make a decision on. You don't know what happens behind those closed doors. That's why they're closed, so you can't see what's going on.
But, really, that's beside the point. Whether or not Marilyn was truly like Sorvino plays her isn't really an issue. The surreal qualities of Norma Jean & Marilyn give ample indication that the filmmakers had no intention to go out and make a straightforward biopic. What they have in mind here is more complex. As heavy-handed as it may be, the symbolism is the real focus of the movie. Marilyn Monroe had two identities, and Sorvino and Ashley Judd go to great pains to illustrate in no uncertain terms that these two identities were in conflict with one another. The very different characterizations aren't saying that Marilyn was two different people. They are simply a case of filmmakers taking dramatic license to exaggerate something for the sake of making it clearer: Norma Jean Dougherty reinvented herself in her mind as someone who could get what she couldn't get herself. Try not to think of this film as a study of Monroe's outward change from Norma Jean to Marilyn. Think of it as more of a look inside her head, as an analysis of all the motives and frustrations bouncing around in her mind, and ultimately serving to identify her more than any physical appearances could ever do. It doesn't matter whether or not she really saw the word "Bourbon" and read it as "Bonbon." As the film lays it out, this is her image of herself, and in reflex, everyone else's image of her.
And then there are those who will complain that it isn't right to speculate on someone's image of herself. But you can't ask a film to stick completely to facts. Conjecture is what makes nonfiction interesting. And it is what makes Norma Jean & Marilyn interesting.
On the acting and in response to those who see the film as "soapy" and "campy": Life is a soap opera. Most of us are able to keep that at bay and live life as a perfectly reasonable chain of events. But desperate people historically are not able to do that. Drama is what they have, and drama is how they can get results. Marilyn, as the film puts it (and remember, you need to always look at a film like this on its own merits, especially when it doesn't portray itself as factual, which this one emphatically does not) is one of these desperate people, and the script respects that as a mean to that untimely end. Mira Sorvino's performance understands this. Yes, it's pretty wooden at first, but by the time she sings Happy Birthday to President Kennedy, hopped up on her crutch of barbituates and alcohol, her Marilyn has become fully realized in the downward spiral that will eventually take her life. Coupled with Ashley Judd's commanding performance as the girl who can only get what she wants by becoming someone else, and Sorvino's performance makes a full, tragic character, keeping to that perception of Marilyn Monroe as the eternal blonde bombshell legend.
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