Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Week with Marilyn

Directed by Simon Curtis.
2011. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Eddie Redmayne
Zoe Wannamaker
Julia Ormond
Dougray Scott

The first time Marilyn Monroe (Williams) went to London it was on a business trip. Accompanied by her husband of three weeks, famed playwright Arthur Miller (Scott), and a number of handlers, she went to film what would become The Prince and the Showgirl. Her co-star and director is the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh). During what was a very trying shoot, Marilyn befriends Third Assistant Director Colin Clark (Redmayne). As the title suggests, this is the story of their tumultuous week together.

Predictably, the notoriously troubled Marilyn is the center of attention. She frustrates Olivier to no end. She suffers wild mood swings, is ridiculously insecure and often hopped up on various pills. Williams’ performance is a near-perfect impersonation of the icon. More than that, she captures Marilyn’s fragility and the manner in which she wields her sexuality as the only weapon she feels comfortable using. It’s remarkable work that threatens to reduce Monroe to a caricature but manages enough humanity to make her a sympathetic figure.

No less brilliant is Kenneth Branagh as Olivier. He, no doubt has the showier role with many loud-voiced tirades and even an angry Shakespearean soliloquy. He balances this with heartfelt admissions as the movie wears on. He hits every note perfectly as does Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, popping in on occasion to provide encouraging words to Marilyn.

Through the two leads, MWwM gives us wonderfully contentious moments between legends. We learn very early that Marilyn’s lack of training, acting ability and, perhaps most of all, professional etiquette offends his very soul. However, her raw sex appeal and presence are simply too much to be denied. Marilyn suffers the brunt of his verbal attacks making her even more unsure of herself than she already is.

While the fireworks between Marilyn and Olivier drive the movie, it’s the relationship of she and Colin that gives us its most touching moments. In him, we see a young man getting in way over his head but we can’t help admiring the tenderness with which he treats her. We truly feel his longing to save her. What we wish he’d understand is that she doesn't really want to be saved. Her manipulations are transparent to us, but not to him. How could they be? Imagine yourself a 23 year old straight male and the most beautiful woman in the world coming on to you.

The end result is a delightful movie filled with wonderful performances. It’s fairly light on offering any new insight into Ms. Monroe, but it does humanize her enough for us to grab hold of. It helps that, despite her forwardness, her relationship with Colin maintains a sense of innocence. It gives the impression of a story of puppy love while treading in some rather adult waters. That said, don’t come into MWwM thinking all the mysteries of Marilyn’s demise will be solved. It’s an entertaining, but small, chapter in the ill-fated star’s turbulent life.

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