MOVIE REVIEW: My Week with Marilyn


In our world of instant news, online blogging, TMZ, and constant paparazzi coverage, I bet, if you polled the general public, an equal, if not greater amount of people, would likely decline and avoid the chance to become a celebrity with that kind of attention and intrusion than those who envy celebrity status and seek it out.  Because of overexposure, "fifteen minutes of fame" have become fifteen seconds and we've learned and witnessed far too many examples of troubled stars who couldn't handle the lifestyle.

In a different age, Marilyn Monroe was a frail victim of celebrity.  Back then, when she was on, she was on.  She lit up the silver screen like few before her and few since. To this day, she remains an icon and the quintessential American sex symbol.  Yet, with the emotional and medical problems we've learned about since her young death, you have to wonder if she would've made it as far as she did then in today's hyper-sensitive world.  Whether it's Marilyn Monroe or Michael Jackson or whoever, we always prefer to remember icons on that level in their prime and not in their decline or lost years.  In the new independent film My Week With Marilyn, we are given a glowing portrait of the bright and awestruck Marilyn Monroe with shades of her future descent.  

My Week with Marilyn, from first-time feature director Simon Curtis, follows the summer of 1957.  Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), at the height of her celebrity popularity and newly married to playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), arrives in London to begin filming a costume piece with the great Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who's directing and starring.  At the same time, Colin Clark (English actor and Burberry model Eddie Redmayne), the youngest and most unsuccessful son from a well-off country family, has been clamoring Olivier's office to fulfill a dream to work on a movie.  After a few days as a gopher, he gets to be the "third assistant director," which makes him the same gopher only now with a title.

When Marilyn hits the set for what will become The Prince and the Showgirl, her famous flakiness comes out, much to Olivier's dismay.   Olivier has played this part on stage with his real-life Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond of Sabrina) in the Monroe part and is insanely frustrated.  She's late for set calls and bad at her line readings with co-star Dame Sybil Thorndike (Dame Judi Dench), let alone Olivier himself.  Her entourage consisting of her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), publicist Arthur Jacobs (Toby Jones) and personal photographer/business partner Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper of The Devil's Double) aren't making things much easier.  Colin, with his honesty and sweetness, starts to develop a good working relationship as a middle-man between Olivier and Monroe.  Sure enough, the bright-eyed young man starts to fall for her (and maybe her for him a little too), despite a growing flirtation he's been having with the costume department gal (Emma Watson, nice to see her away from being Hermione Granger).

Michelle Williams, who's building a formidable and amazing film resume since her days on Dawson's Creek, gives an enchanting and brilliant performance as Marilyn.  She takes on the famous looks, speech patterns, singing, dancing, and mannerisms of "the most famous in the world" with effectiveness and honesty.  Her performance never crosses the line of parody or caricature and is incredibly absorbing and convincing for that.  I love Viola Davis inThe Help, but I can now see why Michelle Williams has been winning more Best Actress awards as of late.  She's that good.

The same superlatives can be said for Kenneth Branagh.  An excellent actor in his own right and a fellow lover of great performance and Shakespeare, he had to relish playing one of his heroes in Olivier.  You can almost say that, at some point in his career, Branagh was born to play Laurence Olivier.  This was a great chance for him to do that.  Like Williams, he nails his real-life character's tone, presence, and traits, and Olivier's story to tell in the film is just as crucial and Monroe's.  He more than deserves the attention he's getting for Best Supporting Actor awards.

My Week with Marilyn is a true story based on two memoirs from the real-life Colin Clark.  This was the only time Marilyn Monroe ever made a movie outside North America.  All told, like the recent Hugo andThe Artist the film is a rich and engaging story of the behind-the-scenes drama of the movie business.  Just like Michelle's Marilyn and the real Marilyn, the movie has charm and attraction every step of the way.  Beautifully filmed and balancing its comedy with its drama well, My Week with Marilyn is one of the best films of 2011.

LESSON #1: FIRST LOVE IS SUCH SWEET DESPERATION-- This is a nice line delivered by Judi Dench's Dame Sybil to Colin and it's true.  First loves are unforgettable, but they normally have us in over our heads.  First loves catch us when we are young and gullible.  They go on to break our hearts and shape the rest of our lives. Imagine if yours was Marilyn Monroe.

LESSON #2: WHEN STYLES CLASH MAKING MOVIES-- In this true story, the classical stage training of Laurence Olivier meets the instinctual method of Marilyn Monroe and it really doesn't work.  Colin's character said it best: Olivier was a great actor trying to be a film star and Monroe was a film star trying to become a great actor.  In order to make their picture, one or the other has to bend their techniques in order for their collaboration to bear fruit.

LESSON #3: DEALING WITH A CELEBRITY-- For as much as some envy celebrities and their lifestyles, people need to know how difficult their lives can be.  While the paparazzi of the 1950s was nowhere near the level that it is today, the lack of privacy as the "most famous face in the world" didn't help Marilyn Monroe.  That attention and pressure fed into her vices, fears, confidence issues, and medical problems.