Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe Lifetime Movie Part 1 Recap: Surprise! It’s Actually Good

Lifetime's Marilyn Monroe Part One recap
Kelli Garner stars as blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe in Lifetime's two-part miniseries The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe. Kevin Lynch/Lifetime

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe has everything you expect from a Lifetime miniseries: drugs, sex, scandal, and a mentally unstable acting legend! The two-part TV movie examines the life and times of the woman formerly known as Norma Jean, beginning with a two-hour installment all about the gone-too-soon superstar's early life.

Kelli Garner stars as the titular blonde bombshell, while Susan Sarandon tackles Monroe's mother, Gladys. That's right: Sarandon and Nicole Kidman both starred in late May Lifetime movies. It’s been a great week for Lifetime!

The first half of the two-part miniseries focused on Monroe's simple upbringing, her tragic relationship with her mentally unstable mother, and how she got her start. Here are the highlights:

The Acting Is Good (For Real)

The iconic Marilyn Monroe is a hard character to pull off — you want to do the sexpot justice without verging into caricature. Garner played Monroe with nuance and subtlety, nailing both the voice and mannerisms. Sarandon hammed it up — her wig got bigger and crazier as the movie progressed — and the two had wonderful chemistry.

Diamonds Are Lifetime Movie’s Best Friend

While The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe was not the tragic disaster that was Grace of Monaco, the costume work was just as impressive. As the movie spanned the style icon's too-brief career, the looks were ever-changing. From Monroe's simple garments growing up to the memorable gowns she wore later in life, the costumes were pure fashion nostalgia.

Kelli Garner and Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon plays Marilyn Monroe's mentally ill mother, Gladys, in the Lifetime miniseries The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe. Danny Feld

The Early Years

Before there was Marilyn Monroe, there was Norma Jean (drinking game alert: it’s said a lot!), a simple girl with big dreams. Little NJ was raised by her Aunt Grace (Emily Watson) after being taken away from her mother (nepotism alert: younger Gladys is played by Eva Amurri Martino, Sarandon’s daughter), and her childhood was shown via flashbacks of Monroe talking to her therapist.

Gentlemen Really Do Prefer Blondes

The movie showed Monroe transitioning into her memorable persona — changing her name, altering her voice (an idea she stole from a theater attendant!), blossoming into her sexuality and, finally, dying her hair blonde. The full reveal near the end of this first installment solidified Garner’s striking resemblance to Monroe and, mixed with the spot-on voice, it was something to behold.

Red Velvet

One of the most memorable moments of the first two hours was a recreation of the risqué red velvet photo shoot by Tom Kelley. The iconic images are a part of Hollywood history, and it’s hard to recreate something so memorable — but it was achieved here. In this scene, Garner’s body was on full display, but we also saw Monroe’s vulnerability on display too. She was free of inhibitions and hungry for fame. "Because in the movies you’ll be famous and if you’re famous, everyone loves you,” she cooed. And with that, a star was born.

PHOTOS: Most beloved characters

The trademark Lifetime soap opera goodness came toward the end of the second hour, when the mentally ill Gladys slapped Marilyn (get that Emmy, Sarandon) before being sedated and taken out of the room. Immediately after, however, Monroe put on her public facade and told an interviewer, “with the right shoes, a girl can conquer the world!”

Look forward to more deliciously dramatic Lifetime moments when part two airs on Sunday, May 31 at 9 p.m. ET.

Tell Us: What did you think of Lifetime’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe?

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