Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN                C+              
Great Britain  USA  (99 mi)  2011  'Scope  d:  Simon Curtis

Once more during the holiday season, viewers are blitzed by trailers of two big production, Hollywood style releases that include Meryl Streep as Maggie Thatcher in THE IRON LADY and Michelle Williams in this film as Marilyn Monroe, where in both instances the actresses don’t so much inhabit the real life roles as consume the part in body and spirit.  Williams has been getting the best reviews of her life for this film, where Roger Ebert Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert] has already declared her an Academy Award nominee, and there is no doubt that she is excellent, as she continually pouts like a hurt puppy with demure affectations that demand not just attention but adulation whenever she’s around and she wears many of the same costumes and hairstyles, matches the voice inflection, even sings like Marilyn, but never for a single second can she be confused for the real persona of Ms. Monroe.  Similarly, but getting much fewer raves, Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier, the director and actor in the movie, is a stickler for things like rules and punctuality and shooting on time, where Branagh hams up the role with pompous relish, coming across as a tyrannical authoritarian who throws tantrums on the set while waiting for Ms. Monroe to show up.   Based on the personal memoirs of Colin Clark, who had a minor role in the movie production of a relatively 2nd rate film, THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957), shot in London, the story suggests he was an invaluable comfort to Ms. Monroe, perhaps even having an affair with her when she was suffering a crisis in confidence after her shattered marriage started to unravel with playwright Arthur Miller just weeks after they were married.  Despite Ms. Monroe’s real life reputation as the world’s greatest sex symbol, this is a rather timid and sexless version of her life.  Like the exaggerated self promotion and fictionalized speculation surrounding personal memoirs, this suggested love affair, much like the one portrayed in Eastwood’s J. EDGAR (2011), may never have happened at all, but that is the story of movies, to make one wonder. 

A child of wealth and privileged status, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is determined to make a name for himself in the movies, and to do it without his family’s help.  To this end, he runs off to London looking for a job in Olivier’s next production, which happens to star the infamous Ms. Monroe, where she is continually hounded by gawkers, photographers and the British tabloids.  Colin lands a role as an errand boy for Olivier and the producers, often to fetch the wayward American star, where in her ever prolonged absences she learns to depend upon his company.  While Olivier and the entire cast are waiting for Marilyn to appear on the set for an informal run through, Marilyn can’t go anywhere without her personal acting coach, method acting instructor Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker), where she remains personally and psychically inseparable, unable to make any move without her, a crutch if ever there was one, which completely exasperates the director on the film who simply wants Marilyn to effortlessly exude her natural sexual charm on camera for what amounts to a light and breezy costume comedy.  Marilyn’s approach, however, working for the legendary Olivier, considered the British actor of his generation, was if preparing for great British theater, wanting to broaden her reputation and be taken seriously as an actress.  Despite flubbing her lines and behaving like a diva offscreen, her onscreen presence couldn’t have been more captivating, much like floating on air, making those around her appear to be wearing lead boots.  Her natural beauty and air of naïve vulnerability was like nothing seen before or sense, as she depicts a neurosis laden modern temperament in every frame yet remains stuck in these ancient and sexually repressive costume dramas.  Michelle Williams is especially brilliant in the musical numbers and the successful daily shoots, where she’s literally mimicking this legendary screen presence, but her real life depictions of a fragile star depending on the kindness of a stranger, that being Colin, simply have no weight behind them. 

Colin Clark’s character is the real dead weight of the film, as he never evolves past a star gazer, a young kid who idealizes what’s in front of him, who’s already star struck just getting onto a movie set for the first time in his life, where his infatuation with movies is right out of CINEMA PARADISO (1988), most likely resorting to fantasy in his memoirs, where there’s a certain depth missing for why Monroe would be attracted to him in the first place, as he’s just a kid, really, like Jimmy Olsen at the Daily Planet, young, naïve, and inexperienced.  Without a real romance, but largely a friendly kiss and chat affair, this poses the question as to why make the film in the first place?  It’s lack of real drama is likely to be seen as something of a disappointment, where only the exploitation of a screen legend combined with a hot Hollywood property offers the enticing sizzle this film hopes to achieve.  Part of the problem is also costuming Ms. Williams to resemble Ms. Monroe, where she’s not as shapely, so they’ve obviously added padding around her hips to help recreate the image, which alters the curve of her natural waistline, but this shouldn’t be so noticeable.  Unfortunately, due to the tightness of the dresses worn, this is an unnecessary distraction throughout the picture.  Also, Marilyn Monroe’s face is so familiar, literally an iconic image, that it’s impossible to ever imagine you’re seeing anyone other than actress Michelle Williams onscreen, especially in the close ups.  Perhaps with previous Oscar winners Colin Firth as King George VI (2010), Sean Penn as Harvey Milk (2008), Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin (2006), Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote (2005), or Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (2004), the personal identification with the screen image was not so entrenched in the viewer’s imaginations as Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most photographed screen legend ever.  That notwithstanding, Michelle Williams, as always, gives a first rate performance, but she’s continually overshadowed by the hovering presence of the real Marilyn Monroe, where she pales in comparison.

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