Saturday 14 September 2013

Movie Review: My Week With Marilyn (2011)

Another sacrifice at the altar of Marilyn Monroe obsession, My Week With Marilyn offers a captivating Michelle Williams performance, but not much else of interest.

It's 1957, and Marilyn Monroe (Williams), the biggest movie star in the world, arrives in London to film what would become The Prince And The Showgirl, a lightweight comedy with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench). Amidst the predictable media storm, young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) lands a job as Third Assistant Director on the production, essentially an errand boy to satisfy Olivier's whims. Clark is eager and enthusiastic, and starts a tentative relationship with wardrobe assistant Lucy (Emma Watson). Meanwhile, his position on the set provides him with a front row seat as the production stutters to a start.

Monroe is with her newly minted third husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), but their relationship appears cold. She is much more dependent on her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoƫ Wanamaker), whose role is to protect Monroe's fragile self esteem. Olivier's wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) is gracious enough but keeps a wary eye on her husband. With filming in turmoil and Monroe's frequent late arrivals to the set infuriating Olivier, Miller abruptly abandons his new wife and heads back to the US. Monroe turns to Clark for comfort, the superstar and the third assistant director raising eyebrows as they start to spend time together, despite the objections of Monroe's business partner Milton H. Greene (Dominic Cooper).

My Week With Marilyn is based on two (!) books by Colin Clark chronicling his limited interaction with Monroe, and the movie cannot shake the nagging sentiment that this is one temporarily starstruck man milking a short experience for all its worth. And while there may be an interesting story here about the ease with which hypercharisma can distort reality, director Simon Curtis does not help by portraying the time that Marilyn and Clark spent together as an almost mystical ideal romance.

This may have been how a mesmerised Clark remembered events; it simply comes across as one man emotionally drowning within the allure of an incredibly beautiful but deeply troubled woman, and mistaking her ability to influence all men for something resembling a whirlwind relationship. More pointedly exploring the difference between what Clark felt and what actually happened would have made for a much more interesting movie.

Instead we get a princess and the pauper fairy tale, complete with the prolonged montage sequence of the couple touring Windsor Castle and Eton College, and then skinny dipping. At best Monroe was furious that her husband abandoned her, desperate for company, irrational due to constant pill popping, and found the most naive sap to baby sit her ego. But the Adrian Hodges script treats the week as a magical coming together of two souls, and the saccharine taste just doesn't convince.

Stretching the shallow events of one week to a respectable movie length means that every detail is prolonged past its reasonable level of importance. Ironically, the scenes revealing the struggles of filming a movie with an erratic Marilyn are more interesting, Curtis capturing the continuous tension created by an unstable star, frequently late to the set and trying to pretend that the role requires great insight and preparation, while in fact she sleeps off her latest fistful of pills.

My Week With Marilyn does offer an affecting Michelle Williams turn as Monroe, or at least she nails the mannerisms of Monroe's public persona. Williams immediately erases the line between actress and subject, and dances along all the octaves of a highly strung, enormously talented, and incredibly famous woman, struggling with self confidence at one end of the scale and effortlessly deploying her irresistible sex-drenched charms at the other.

Branagh is less successful as Olivier, never appearing at ease in the role and unable to shed the act and find the actor. Judi Dench brings plenty of class as Sybil Thorndike, but she effectively disappears halfway through the film. Redmayne is firmly stuck in family theatre territory, where the fact that he is acting - almost always with a smile! - overshadows everything else that he is trying to convey.

Williams alone makes the film worth watching, and her performance raises the production from cheap television movie to a tolerable film experience. Never mind My Week With Marilyn; the 100 minutes with Michelle are what matter.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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