My Week with Marilyn
Adrian Hodges (Books: Colin Clark)
Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, Zoe Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi, Pip Torrens, Miranda Raison, Karl Moffatt
R for some language
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If you’ve ever wanted see Marilyn Monroe raw and exposed, look no further than the scintillating perfromance of Michelle Williams as the iconic blonde bombshell in My Week with Marilyn.
As a film, Simon Curtis’ production seems aimlessly adrift in the minute fraction of time during which it is set. Focusing on the unconventional relationship between Monroe and a studio intern (Eddie Redmayne) while on a location shoot for The Prince and the Showgirl, the movie tries to emphasize how hard it is for celebrities to live an exposed life while constantly trying to improve themselves and their craft. In the case of Monroe, an actress wanting to be taken seriously, but woefully addicted to narcotics and unable to focus through bouts of severe depression, never quite feeling adequate in the well known role.
Keeping her from adjusting is the The Prince and the Showgirl‘s brash director and co-star Laurence Olivier, played here by fellow Shakespearean legend Kenneth Branagh. If Branagh never fully inhabits his role, it isn’t for lack of trying. Branagh has as many histrionic outbursts as a preening prima donna. It’s an interesting dichotomy when his character jeers Monroe for doing the same thing. There are some interesting contemplations on the nature of acting and the constant aura of fear in the profession and Branagh does well giving us ample dialogue to confirm this. Yet, having only a fractional glimpse into Olivier’s life in the looking glass of Redmayne’s characters recollections (the film is based on Colin Clark’s novel about his time with Monroe), we can’t quite grasp the entirety and importance of his talent or why this particular performance is more impressive than it appears on screen.
Williams is one of those rare talents whose every film performance stands shoulders above her contemporaries. Few modern actresses could have carried the weight and importance of this role without making it entirely about them doing a caricature. Williams creates a breathless interpretation of an unquestionably unusual star. And that is what Monroe was. She was a star. She was never quite the contemporary of someone like Audrey Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor, but she delivered some seemingly effortless performances as the beautiful woman everyone wanted to date. That passionate following infuses the film when Williams is on screen, but when she’s gone, we regret not having her presence. It’s as if the real Monroe were right there beside Williams coaxing the audience into appreciative silence.
There are no false notes in the performance and while it’s not one without its dissimilarities to the real Monroe, Williams doesn’t let us think about it for long. She is the consummate professional and were I not impressed in her many other previous performances (Wendy and Lucy and Blue Valentine sterling examples), this act would certainly put me in her column.
The issue with films like this is focusing entirely too heavily on a single element (or two in the cases of Williams and Branagh) to drive it forward, causes everything around it to seem tame and unfulfilling by comparison. We can admire and celebrate the work of talented actors, but without a solid backbone, you’re left with a movie so insignificant that it feels rather dull. The screenplay doesn’t lack dramatics or compelling narrative touches, but Curtis’ lifeless direction drags the production down. At times it feels like he just lets his camera sit around capturing what comes before it. Yet, with a vibrant personality like Monroe, you have to be daring and deft to make everything come off swimmingly. Perhaps the television medium in which Curtis had worked exclusively is better suited to his talents. Trying to fit everything important between commercial breaks forces a director to input creative flourishes to keep the audience engaged. On the big screen, you don’t have that convenience and even with the most bland screenplay, a great director knows how to goose it to success. Curtis had two talented actors and a potentially volatile and exciting screenplay, but let it linger too frequently and never gave it the momentum or thrust it should have had.
As a historical record, My Week with Marilyn falls into a widening field of entrants where lack of distinction causes movies to become lost in the morass. Were it not for Williams and, to a lesser extent, Branagh, the film would have been as indistinguishable as any number of other period dramas that visit theaters and disappear with little more than a sigh.
May 4, 2012