Mark Reviews Movies

My Week with Marilyn


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Simon Curtis

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Zo Wanamaker, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott

MPAA Rating: R (for some language)

Running Time: 1:39

Release Date: 11/23/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 22, 2011

My Week with Marilyn uses the pop-psychology portrait of Marilyn Monroe we've almost all come to accept as a springboard for a look behind the scenes of the infamously rocky production of The Prince and the Showgirl. In the film, screenwriter Adrian Hodges (working from two books written by Colin Clark, who is also the film's protagonist) presents Monroe as a woman so insecure in her own skin that her greatest performance would be maintaining an air of strength while in the public eye, when she would much rather find solace in an assortment of pills and spend the day in bed.

The view is that Monroe felt the need to live up to her screen persona just to engage in everyday activities. She simply wanted to be loved, the film argues, and the only way she knew how was to emphasize her breathy voice and pretend to be the icon of sensuality that everyone knew her as when she was on the screen. She, of course, was not, really. Here is a wounded soul, pained by a childhood filled with abandonment and attempting to escape into the make-believe world of Method acting.

If it sounds like tabloid trash and the smearing of a beloved actress, Hodges and director Simon Curtis have nothing but sympathy for their version of Monroe. They do not pass judgment on her. If there is any judgment in the film, it is leveled upon the men surrounding her, whose expectations of what she should be (from various people a more professional actress, a doting wife, and a goddess) force her to anyone and everyone except herself. To them, she is the blank screen upon which they can project their own desires.

For Colin (Eddie Redmayne), she is the beautiful highlight of his regular escapes to the local movie theater from the humdrum life with his family. The young man needs a job, too, so he seeks work with Sir Laurence Olivier's (Kenneth Branagh) production company. The actor runs in the same social circles as Colin's parents, and in terms of temporary summer jobs, this one is a dream.

Sir Laurence makes Colin the third assistant director on the upcoming film he will be directing and starring ina breezy comedy about an American dancer who begins to fall in love with a prince who has his eye on her. Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) will play the showgirl, and Colin's first duty is to find a house for her to live in during her stay in England. Knowing the gossip will spread, he finds two, and Sir Laurence is impressed by the kid's foresight.

He is less impressed with his star, who delays her departure for London when the government suspects her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), of being a Communist. Her entourage is demanding. Her business manager Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) speaks only in commands, believing he knows what's best for his client. Her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zo Wanamaker), then the wife of the famous Method acting teacher Lee Strasberg, demands that her student use valuable rehearsal time to discover her character. Sir Laurence, of course, believes the Method to be a bunch of phooey, and his patience with his leading actress' constant need for preparation time while the rest of the actors are on set and ready to shoot runs out quickly.

The film's center is the budding relationship between Marilyn and Colin, in whom she finds an objective observer of the problems on the set. She's tired of Milton's attempts to control circumstances, and Sir Laurence becomes so enraged by what he imagines to be the spoiled behavior of unprofessional Hollywood starlet that he finds he cannot even direct her performance in any meaningful way ("Just be sexy," he scolds her; "Isn't that what you do?"), let alone talk with her about whatever personal issues might be at the heart of her troubles on set. Even if he could, he probably wouldn't out of a sense of professional propriety, and based on the glimpses of his relationship with his current wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), who is admiring but jealous of Marilyn (Vivien originated the showgirl role when it was on stage but has, according to her husband, gotten too old to play it on film), it's unlikely he ever could, anyway.

In Colin, Marilyn sees a confident, and, in her, Colin sees a chance to live out his fantasy (He even passes the opportunity for a budding romance with a pretty and pretty normal costumer (Emma Watson) to do so). They are, essentially, using each other. He for obvious reasons (The very fact that Clark wrote two tomes to highlight his connection to Monroe only seals it), and she still wants him to tell her the good things Sir Laurence might say about her behind her back.

The film offers nothing new in terms of a star-crossed romance between two people of different statuses (It really only underscores Marilyn's past, like when she notes that Colin is the first man she's ever kissed that was younger than her) or the behind-the-scenes drama of a film production (It is entertaining enough of a peek), but it certainly offers Williams to occasion to channel Marilyn. Williams is truly radiant in the role, offering a Marilyn that is the epitome of both sensuality and vulnerability.

With her performance, My Week with Marilyn thoroughly manages to evade whatever sensationalism the material might have engendered. The Marilyn here is a sex symbol and, at the same time and more importantly, a human being.

Copyright 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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