Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: "My Week with Marilyn"

I am not particularly well versed when it comes to Marilyn Monroe. In my opinion, she is more of a cultural icon than an actress - yet the American Film Institute ranked her number six on their list of 25 screen legends (ahead of Elizabeth Taylor (8th) and Judy Garland (9th)). The only Marilyn Monroe films I have seen are Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959), which I have probably seen 25 times. I imagine Marilyn was somewhat like Sugar, her character in Some Like It Hot, beautiful but lacking a firm grasp on reality. The 2011 film My Week with Marilyn depicts the making of the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl, co-starring and directed by Laurence Olivier. While filming, Marilyn had a brief affair with a production assistant, and this film is the product of that story. The film is based on two Colin Clark memoirs, The Prince, the Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn. Marilyn Monroe had been portrayed on screen by at least a dozen different actresses, including Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino in 1996's Norma Jean & Marilyn. Michelle Williams does have an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, and I will assume that she was cast in the role because of her physical similarities. Her body of work is decidedly different from Marilyn's. Williams does a terrific job portraying Marilyn's juvenile vulnerability, but I feel like she loses the character when she is forced to act. Marilyn Monroe is much more than a caricature. I would place the bulk of the blame on the director, Simon Curtis, making his feature film debut. Williams would have benefited from stronger direction. The same can be said for Kenneth Branagh's performance as Laurence Olivier. Branagh is guilty of overacting. Judi Dench, thankfully, saves the film and injects great enthusiasm into the role of Sybil Thorndike. My Week with Marilyn struggles to find a balance between caricature and truth. Too many characters are one-dimensional and Michelle Williams' performance, while great overall, lacks some cohesiveness.

In the summer of 1956 Marilyn Monroe (Williams) is scheduled to fly to England to film The Prince and the Showgirl alongside Laurence Olivier (Branagh). Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is a recent university graduate. He comes from a wealthy family in the English countryside and had always dreamed of a career in the film business. Against his father's wishes, he tells his family he is traveling to London for a job interview. The fact is that there is no such interview. Colin arrives at the office for Laurence Olivier Productions and returns everyday until a job becomes available. He wins support from Olivier's wife Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond) and is given a job on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl as the director's assistant. Marilyn, in England on her honeymoon with her new husband Arthur Miller (a criminally one-dimensional Dougray Scott), is a tremendously difficult actress. She has brought along her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoƫ Wanamaker) and must go over every line in depth. This behaviour is especially frustrating for the film's director, Laurence Olivier. He tries his best to remain calm in front of the actors, including Sybil Thorndike (Dench), who offers Marilyn the warmest welcome. Eventually Colin and Marilyn meet and he falls in love with her instantly, though he has started seeing a costume assistant (Emma Watson). Marilyn soon begins requesting Colin every time she is upset. Her husband has traveled back to the United States and she has become lonely. The two embark on an affair, which angers her agent Milton H. Greene (Dominic Cooper). Marilyn's relationship with Colin allows her to complete the film, but she breaks his heart while doing it.

My Week with Marilyn has the potential to be a much better film. It has the air of a light, low-budget British drama, along the lines of Saving Grace, a 2000 film starring Brenda Blethyn. I feel like Marilyn Monroe deserves a better focused film. This is the first film in a number of years about Marilyn Monroe. She is a Hollywood icon and there has not been a biographical feature about her - Norma Jean & Marilyn was a made-for -TV film. An adaptation of Marilyn Monroe's memoir Blonde starring Naomi Watts was slated for production in January 2011, but has since been shelved. A lot of focus in My Week with Marilyn is on Colin Clark. I do not think Eddie Redmayne was miscast, but there were times when he lacked chemistry with Michelle Williams. Williams is a fantastic actress (as evidenced in Blue Valentine), but Redmayne seems starstruck at times. Luckily Kenneth Branagh is the weakest part of the cast. The love story between Colin and Marilyn is made more believable because Branagh's Laurence Olivier is infuriating. Has Branagh been away from the screen (in non-Harry Potter related roles) too long to remember how to act? My Week with Marilyn was a disappointment. Michelle Williams tries her hardest, but the entire cast needed more focus and direction. The film has received quite a lot of publicity because of Marilyn Monroe, but I fear too many viewers will leave unfulfilled.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

1 comment:

  1. I actually enjoyed this on the whole but I get the impression that the studio is hoping for it to be Oscar worthy and I'm not sure it should be. Michelle Williams is quite captivating as Marilyn and effectively captures the self destructive and insecure character that Monroe always seemed to be. But this is but a version of the woman Monroe must have been and even when attempting to show her many sides the film fails to capture a real and tangible character, instead falling to familiar tropes. Clark's retelling of events, tinged in the rosy glow of a boyhood crush, seems to reduce Marilyn to either the quintessential damsel in distress, or the bombshell. The story plays like an imagining of what it would have been like to fall for the starlet at her most vulnerable and never seems to shake the stink of fantasy.

    What's more, Branagh's Olivier is absolutely insufferable. Though perhaps that's the point, since he seems to amplifies parts of his own personality to play Olivier in decline. I have previously been a big fan of Branagh (his interpretation of Hamlet, co--starring Kate Winslet is still an all time favourite Shakespeare for me) but lately I've found him to be slipping into pompousness of a variety that I just can't stand.

    Eddie Redmayne's Colin is likable but fairly flat in terms of ambitions and characterization. He basically serves as a foil for the character actors of the piece. Ultimately the film does tell a story, but for a film that is touted as a character piece, it comes out a little like a glorified history lesson.