The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

Movie review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe Movie Poster Image
Sluggish Monroe biopic depicts a complicated private life.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 180 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Major themes include relationships, motherhood, addiction, and mental illness. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some relationships result from love; others are convenient. 


Domestic violence (dragging, hair-pulling) in one scene. Screaming, broken glass, blood.


Innuendo, sexual behavior; nudity (buttocks, partial breasts, sheer underwear). 


References to Marilyn Monroe movies. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Excessive drinking, cigarette smoking, prescription drugs. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe is based on a best-selling book and contains mature themes, including coping with abandonment, mental illness, addiction, and using sex to navigate Hollywood. Nudity (buttocks, partial breasts, sheer underwear), pill-popping, drinking, and smoking are visible. The movie also contains a disturbing domestic-violence scene. It's not the best biopic that tries to recapture Monroe's life, but fans will enjoy.

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What's the story?

Based on the bestselling book of the same name, THE SECRET LIFE OF MARILYN MONROE dramatically chronicles how the star hid her complicated private life from the public. Kelli Garne plays Norma Jeane Mortenson, a young woman whose mentally ill mother Gladys (Susan Sarandon) was largely absent from her life. Despite help from foster parent Ida Bolender (Gloria Gruber) and her mother's best friend, Grace McKee (Emily Watson), the future Marilyn Monroe grows up in foster homes and ultimately marries young Jimmy Dougherty (Giacomo Gianniotti) to avoid being placed back in an orphanage. What follows is a meteoric rise to stardom in Hollywood while she has affairs with people ranging from studio heads to U.S. presidents, fighting through troubled marriages with Joe DiMaggio (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Arthur Miller (Stephen Bogaert) and struggles with mental illness and addiction. She also must take care of Gladys, who is in and out of hospitals. But somehow she manages to keep up her glamorous persona while keeping the media out of her less-than-glamorous personal world.

Is it any good?

The overall series will appeal to Marilyn Monroe fans, but there are some slow moments. Garner's portrayal of the late actress isn't the most captivating, either, especially when compared to Sarandon's outstanding performance as her mother. But those who are curious to learn more about Monroe's personal life, which is so remarkably different from her public persona, will find it compelling.

It offers a dramatic interpretation of Monroe's tumultuous personal life, which was largely affected by her mother's battle with paranoid schizophrenia. The facts that most people didn't know that Gladys existed (thanks to the Hollywood publicity wheel) and that Monroe allegedly had schizophrenic tendencies made this all the more difficult. It also introduces some of the other important women in her life, including her first foster mother, her "Aunt" Grace, and John F. Kennedy's  sister, Patricia Kennedy Lawford. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about who Marilyn Monroe really was. What made her such an icon when she was alive? Why are people still fascinated by her? Did her early death have something to do with it? Are people interested in the Hollywood version of her or who she really was as a person?

  • Many popular celebrities have died due to drug and alcohol use and addictive behaviors. Why? Does the media glamorize celebs who engage in these risky behaviors? Is there a connection between the two?  

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love biopics

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