Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996)

When a naked Ashley Judd just ain't enough

Feb 16, 2005 at 4:00 am
Kick-started by Sex and the City and The Sopranos, HBO has been on its A-game for, like, seven years running, scooping up Golden Globes and Emmys by the truckload. The abomination that is Norma Jean & Marilyn reminds us that the now-sterling network was once capable of producing straight-up guano.

Norma Jean starts out promisingly enough, with a buck-naked Ashley Judd walking toward an altar in a dream sequence. The willowy Judd spends much of the film's first hour dropping trou and frog-styling her way up Tinseltown's ladder, amid painfully rendered flashback scenes that show a younger Norma Jean getting raped by a string of foster daddies after being dropped off cold at an orphanage by her adoptive mother (portrayed by Beth Grant, a career character actress who enjoyed her finest hour as the white-trash demon stage-mom Kitty Farmer in Donnie Darko).

After a tolerable hour of Judd, the movie sinks to Lifetime-network level, thanks to a comically embarrassing performance by Mira Sorvino as the surgically enhanced, drugged-out Monroe. Granted, the script is garbage, too, featuring numerous corny interactions between Monroe and Judd's "dead" Norma Jean, who was "killed" in Sorvino's head while the about-to-be-hatched movie star was chemically sedated. Had the filmmakers left both roles in Judd's capable hands -- the necessary technology was certainly available at the time -- the melodrama would have gone down smoother. Instead we get the dreadful Sorvino, flubbing Monroe's breathy, ditzy sexuality so badly that it can't be any coincidence that this fluke Oscar (for 1995's Mighty Aphrodite) winner's career has gone the way of this film since: straight down the crapper.

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.