Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Movie review: My Week with Marilyn
Few have inhabited the fragile psyche of Marilyn Monroe the way Michelle Williams does here.
Pity poor Marilyn Monroe.
In director Simon Curtis' captivating My Week with Marilyn, we meet the iconic Hollywood sex symbol (played by Michelle Williams) in 1956, at the apex of her fame — and in the midst of her descent into deep, dark, barbiturate-fueled depression. She's come to Pinewood Studios in England to star in a breezy, adapted-from-the-stage romantic comedy opposite Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).
Marilyn's hoping to improve her acting chops, in the interest of landing more serious roles. Olivier — the consummate stage actor — has invited her to star in his latest production so he can figure out what it takes to be a film star. He wants to capture some of her screen magic, if only by proximity.
(Plus, he's hoping for a chance to bed the world's most desirable woman. Even his wife, Vivien Leigh — played by Julia Ormond — is acutely aware of this not-so-hidden agenda.)
At Pinewood, Marilyn finds herself overmatched and overwhelmed by the polished, high-toned acting talent arrayed around her; she is particularly intimidated by the domineering Olivier, who is also the film's director. If not for her acting coach (Zoë Wanamaker as Paula Strasberg), Marilyn would likely be boarding the next flight home in Ray-Ban-obscured tears.
Marilyn's new husband, playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), fades into the background at the first opportunity, offering little in the way of support. Scott portrays Miller as a media wallflower, hanging on the arm of his glamorous spouse at press events as if her were a cardboard cutout of a man.
(He is, it must be remembered, a mere writer.)
Thank goodness, then, for the unlikely presence on set of gangly movie maven Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). Colin — through dogged persistence and innate cleverness — has insinuated himself into the production as 3rd Assistant Director (i.e., gofer). Young master Clark emerges as the real protagonist of My Week with Marilyn: If this were a text narrative, it would be told from Colin's perspective. And that's precisely what makes this movie such a fabulous wish fulfillment fantasy.
Marilyn latches onto the fresh-faced and worshipful Colin as an anodyne to her terrible secret insecurity. In Colin's presence, she finds a way to escape from the prison of herself — or, rather, from the manufactured, mythological stardom in which she finds herself mired.
Colin has recently begun dating the winsome wardrobe girl (Emma Watson, in a wan supporting role), when suddenly he finds himself skinnydipping and sharing a chauffeured limousine with — as Marilyn's advance man puts it — "the greatest piece of ass on Earth." Who can blame the kid for falling for her?
Scores and scores of actresses have played Marilyn Monroe over the years, and many have been made to actually look like her. But few have succeeded in taking on her insecurities and inhabiting her fragile psyche the way Williams does here. Marilyn was, to quote a character in the film, "profoundly unhappy" — and yet her transcendent screen presence brought joy to millions of moviegoers. Williams' performance captures this strange, sad duality with subtlety and sureness.
Branagh, playing the film's other iconic figure, also turns in a sterling performance. He dissolves effortlessly into the mannered, egotistical, occasionally almost effeminate character of the great English actor.
Notable supporting players include Toby Jones as Arthur Jacobs (the aforementioned advance man); Dominic Cooper as Marilyn's possessive handler Milton Greene; and Judi Dench as kindly veteran actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, who serves as a sympathetic ambassador amongst the squabbling parties on set.
The film's charming epilogue takes place at the Dog and Duck, a country inn where Colin has taken up residence for the duration of the film shoot; he's boasted to the innkeeper about his elbow-rubbing with movie stars, but there's nothing like a visit from a real live star to breathe life into his story.
Talk about a week to remember!
To find movie showtimes for My Week with Marilyn, click here.