Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

There's two movies inside My Week With Marilyn, the latest frothy confection sewn with an ultra tidy bow by Harvey Weinstein made for optimal awards bait potential.  The first one is a rote, easy to swallow revisit to the set of the lightweight Laurence Olivier-Marilyn Monroe comedy The Prince & the Showgirl, reveling in Old Hollywood mirth and the best production design a meager budget could provide.  The second film, and the juicier, more complicated is that of the iconic actress at odds with herself, the public and her ever-more-weary movie making team-- this film, the better of the two is provided in an ace solo effort by the wondrous Michelle Williams, who tackles the iconography and legacy, the very Marilyn of Monroe with such a fragile grace, it's a shame that director Simon Curtis (TV's Cranford) and writer Adrian Hodges didn't have more confidence to make that same feature.  Instead, what's left is a fairly routine, vaguely inside-Hollywood lightweight with the same simple observations and lazy commentary that's been regurgitated for decades.

The problem from the start is the My part of the title, which belongs to Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a privileged young man with an aspiration to contribute to the cinema.  He gets his chance, thanks to family acquaintances and that old hedgehog gumption, as the third assistant director on Olivier's latest project, set to star the already infamously troubled glamor girl.  Whatever significance the relationship between Colin and Marilyn may have been in real life, it's a bit of snooze on screen, and hard to fathom that it would make a great book (in which Clark wrote, and is the basis of the film), but here it is.  There's the typical notes of Monroe's famed tardiness on set, a beleaguered Olivier (played in an amusing bit of Shakespearean symmetry by Kenneth Branagh) agitated by his leading lady's lack of professionalism and endless need to be coddled, while famed spouses Vivien Leigh and Arthur Miller get name-checked.  There's a slight nod of heft, that's sadly never fully developed, in the flip side of the same coin that Monroe and Olivier may have felt-- she a movie star forever longing, yet fearful of being a great dramatic actor; he a great dramatic actor, but not quite a movie star.  The dynamic would have changed (and certainly Branagh might have had more to chew on) had the film choose to examine something significant about these fascinating creatures.

However as checked by master publicist Weinstein, My Week With Marilyn chugs along with the false mirth and facile tacks at heft, keeping it's train humming along with amusing, if innocuous charm-- Judi Dench plays Dame Sybil Thorndike with such efflorescence, one might assume she was slipped pills similar to Monroe back in the day, while Emma Watson pops up as a simple costumer in perhaps a silly attempt to woo tweens to this prestige trifle.  That leaves Williams to do all the heavy lifting herself, and while it appears disjointed that such a prime, detailed and substantial performance centers an increasingly silly film, she's more than capable.  Never relying on pure mimicry, and determined not to wither her Marilyn as a cartoon, she inhabits the soul of this sad woman, her hopeless need to be reassured, by her co-stars, her acting coach (Paula Strasberg is played by Zoe Wanamaker), her neglectful husband (a cameo by Dougray Scott) and Colin.  Afraid, but vivacious, joyous, but tormented.  What Williams may lack physically as Marilyn, she embodies in spirit, presenting the only spark of anything the least bit messy, titillating or interesting in My Week With Marilyn.

Had the film taken a cue from its leading lady, and grown a pair, this might perhaps be one of the best films of the year... C+

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