My Week with Marilyn
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During Marilyn Monroe’s (Oscar® Nominee Michelle Williams) first trip to London to film “The Prince and the Showgirl,” with Sir Laurence Olivier (Oscar® Nominee Kenneth Branagh), she befriends Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an ambitious 23 year-old production assistant on the set. As their relationship progresses Colin’s focus shifts from making his way in the film business to rescuing her from the pressures of celebrity life. When Monroe’s new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, makes a brief trip to Paris, Clark takes the opportunity to introduce her to the world outside of Hollywood fame. Based on the true story by Colin Clark, this memoir describes a magical week in which Monroe opens herself up to a stranger and finds in him a confidant and an ally.
Anyone doubting the layered, nuanced, and heartbreaking acting abilities of Michelle Williams will find My Week with Marilyn a tremendous revelation. And Williams fans will enjoy it even more. In My Week with Marilyn Williams takes on the formidable challenge of playing Marilyn Monroe, and does so with depth and assuredness, and without resorting to caricature. Williams's Marilyn commands the screen with pain and delicacy, and doesn't let go until the final credits. My Week with Marilyn focuses on a small time frame in Monroe's life, right after her marriage to Arthur Miller. Monroe, already "the world's most famous woman," still feels the need for validation as an actress. What better way to achieve that, she believes, than committing to costarring with Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl, a film she firmly believed would finally cement her reputation as a serious actress. My Week with Marilyn is based on the short memoir of Colin Clark, a crew member on The Prince and the Showgirl, who quickly became the confidant of the wildly insecure Monroe and watched a train wreck of egos--mostly Olivier's and Monroe's--collide in a fiery near-disaster. Kenneth Branagh gives an uncharacteristically restrained performance as the exasperated Olivier, resentful of the "new blood" in Hollywood that the young Monroe represents, and disdainful of her cult-like devotion to Method acting. (And of Monroe's chronic tardiness, which threatens to undermine the veddy, veddy strict British work schedule.) Eddie Redmayne plays Clark with a sweet, gentle veneer, someone who grows to care genuinely about the complex Monroe. Julia Ormond is clipped and proper as Olivier's then-wife, Vivien Leigh, and Emma Watson shows a lovely gravitas as Lucy, Monroe's acting coach. But it's Williams who gives the revelatory performance, capturing with painful intensity the insecurity that begins to seep out of Monroe like a fearful sweat. "Excuse my horrible face," she blurts out, while looking nothing less than her usual radiant self. Where does this tragic insecurity come from? My Week with Marilyn doesn't attempt to answer the unanswerable, but instead shines a light on the very real woman who became lost in the giant shadow of legend. --A.T. Hurley
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MY WEEK WITH MARILYN covers the time period when Marilyn came over to England to star in Laurence Olivier's PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL. Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) was directing and co-starring, and felt that Monroe would guarantee a big hit. For me, as someone who worked for YEARS in theater, I was in many ways most interested in seeing the clash of acting styles between Monroe & Olivier. Monroe was trying to be a method actor (and she travelled with her own acting coach)...which sometimes seems like a crutch she is using when she's feeling insecure. Olivier was more old-school, where acting was more about craft and instinct and timing and delivery. When the two great movie stars come together, sparks fly. But they aren't the sparks that create movie magic...they create friction and frustration. I enjoyed watching all the British actors struggling to deal with Monroe's "method" of acting. (Best of the bunch was watching Judi Dench, doing all she could to help Marilyn...she gives a delightful performance in a tiny role.)
The movie is told from the point of view of Third Assistant Director Colin Clark (on whose memoir the film is based). Clark is a young man, new to the film business, who essentially is the gopher for Olivier and everyone else involved in the film. He forges an unlikely friendship with Monroe, who briefly comes to trust him more than anyone else around. This alliance lasts about a week (hence the title), where Colin is practically living with Monroe, even sleeping in her bed to offer comfort. There are broad hints that some of Monroe's erratic behavior is due to drugs, but for the most part, the film portrays her as very insecure and lonely and misunderstood. While the film doesn't shy away from the ugly aspects of her life, it is safe to say they are left unexplored.
The film is a fairly loving tribute to Monroe. While she can be difficult, she is always shown fairly sympathetically. Actually, almost everyone in the film is sympathetic. Olivier occasionally blusters and acts out...but honestly, we can understand his frustration. Overall, he comes off well. The movie FEELS evenhanded and humane...it's a nice mood.
Best of all is Michelle Williams. She's done good work before, but much of it has felt SIMILAR. She seems to play contemporary women grappling with some level of demons. (BLUE VALENTINE, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN). Her characters may have inner strength (MEEK'S CUTOFF, WENDY AND LUCY), but they aren't usually dynamic, charismatic, loud women. In MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, we see a side of her that has not been much on display, and my estimation of her jumped up accordingly. Her Marilyn is touching and grappling with demons, but she is also sexy and wildly charismatic. When Williams portrays the "public" Marilyn, handling rabid fans or a crazy press conference...she acts so "non-Michelle Williams-like" that I was quite impressed. Her many accolades were much deserved. Branagh also does a great Olivier. It's perhaps a bit more of an impression that a fully-realized performance...but he's charming and convincing and clearly having a ball with the role. Others don't fare quite as well. Emma Watson is bland (thanks to the script) as Colin's girlfriend; Dougray Scott doesn't get to do much as Arthur Miller and Julia Ormond is miscast as Olivier's wife, Vivien Leigh.
This is not a deeply revelatory film, but it is highly entertaining and the time flies by. The art & costume direction is flawless, including the reconstructions of many scenes from Monroe films. It's a feel-good film about a real life person who was nearly on the brink of self-destruction. That's contradictory, I know...but that's how the film felt. It is certainly worth a look.
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