Reviews

My Week With Marilyn

4

When Larry met Norma...

“Shall I be her?” whispers Marilyn Monroe to her young British confidant in My Week With Marilyn as she prepares to vamp and pout for a line of expectant fans.

It’s an aside that suggests it was as much a challenge playing Hollywood’s blondest bombshell for the girl herself as it must have been for Michelle Williams, the actress bringing the tragic legend back to life in Simon Curtis’ nostalgic period drama.

True, at first glance the Blue Valentine star’s physical resemblance to Norma Jean isn’t exactly uncanny. Yet she captures all of her trepidation and vulnerability as Marilyn journeys to prim ’50s England to appear in The Prince And The Showgirl with director/co-star Laurence Olivier (played to the hilt by Kenneth Branagh in one of several delicious casting coups).

Taking a shine to Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the naïve assistant director upon whose memoirs the film is based, the flighty Monroe uses him as her go-between, companion and (ahem) rather more.

Back at Pinewood her tardiness and sickies send Larry doolally, as does the presence of her pushy acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker). “We can’t have two fucking directors!” Olivier seethes at one point, likening teaching his leading lady to act to “teaching Urdu to a badger”.

The Prince And The Showgirl was released in 1957, and it wasn’t great cinema – and neither, truthfully, is Marilyn. Televisual in style and modest in scope, it occasionally looks as ill-suited to the big screen as its subject felt in the company of revered co-star Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) or her playwright husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott).

What it is, though, is witty, affecting and hugely entertaining, with scripter Adrian Hodges mining the culture-clash scenario for all its comedic worth. In a terrific ensemble meanwhile, Emma Watson gives good cameo as wardrobe mistress Lucy, who’s rather saddened to find hers aren’t the pins Colin’s interested in.

And yet, in the end, it’s Williams around which the pic revolves. And she’s nothing short of heartbreaking, showing us MM at breaking point – a walking wreck reliant on flattery, pills and the comfort of strangers. Not only that, but she also does a decent imitation of her singing voice, in fine recreations of ‘Heat Wave’ and ‘That Old Black Magic’. Boop-oopa- doop indeed.

Verdict:

A treat for film buffs that’s sure to be a heavy-hitter this awards season, Marilyn could end up earning its subject the Oscar she never won during her too-short life.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • willow138

      Dec 6th 2011, 23:09

      4

      My Week With Marilyn was touching, warm and vibrant. Williams has really come along way since Capeside, doing such a fantastic job of portrayed the tragic starlette. Brannagh as usual is brilliant and I particularly love that his Olivier quotes from The Tempest. A Shakespeare actor to the core. The movie really stands out as beautiful with its soft focus on the film within the film and underlying sense off looming tragedy. So I give it a firm 4/5. Well worth the price of a ticket.

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    • FBEXanthopoul

      Jan 21st 2012, 15:45

      3

      www.unsungfilms.com by Georgia Xanthopoulou First thing’s first. I feel I should mention from the start that I have adored Marilyn Monroe for a very long time. Probably since I first watched Gentlemen Prefer Blondes round the time I was five. I remember playing it over and over again, getting frustrated at how long it took the video player to rewind the tape. She seems so vibrant and lively, it’s like she comes out of the screen into your living room. Apart from her curvaceous body and pouting lips, which I was too young to understand, I still think it’s her smile and shine that make her irresistible to audiences. Because of my admiration towards her, I have watched a lot of films and TV movies about her life and, even though they were informative, they all seem to fade from your memory after a while since they somehow try to humanise a woman who has lasted so many years in the conscience of popular culture exactly because of her iconic status. People are always intrigued by her personal troubles, her love life, her dramatic childhood years and this image of a woman so powerful and vulnerable at the same time. It makes sense that most films about her, since we are used to seeing her on the screen as well, will feel like they are not be able to fully explore such a woman in depth and do her justice. And right when you think I would be disappointed in My Week with Marilyn, I’m going to declare that I liked it a lot. Mainly because the film is not parading as a truthful, biographical account of Marilyn’s life. First of all, it revolves around a week of her life. More significantly, though, Marilyn is not the main character. Colin, portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, is a young inexperienced man thirsty to live and is given the opportunity to do just that as he gets a job as a gofer in the production of The Prince and the Showgirl. His story is a coming of age tale, about that time when you break away from what was until then familiar and ‘join the circus’. It’s about his first love but, as it usually happens with first loves, it’s monumental, exciting and, ultimately, heart breaking. And it is Colin’s story we are watching. So, the things we learn about Marilyn are through his memories. In this way, the film dodges the bullet of even trying to be a comprehensive biography and doesn’t pretend that what we get is the ultimate look deep inside her soul. Marilyn is never seen alone, her actions and words are always what Colin sees or hears, a fact which makes the audience aware of the fact that film is not claiming to know Marilyn, as the narrator doesn’t really know her himself. So, we know Marilyn only to the extent that others have known her. And while there are glimpses of a Marilyn audiences wouldn’t see at the time of her career, as she binge drinks and sees her media image as another part she can play, still there is nothing new that we learn that hasn’t been written and said about her already. There couldn’t be. That might sound like a waste of time, another story about Marilyn with no real insight of the woman herself. However, one must be aware that a real insight is impossible and all biographies that claim they know the artists they revolve around are subject to criticism precisely for this reason. If the film is not based on an autobiography, than no one can really communicate the inner truth of any other person. In this way, the focus of the film is not an objective view on her life but provides us with a perspective of her. Which, to me, is much more interesting. Which brings us to the object of the viewers’ gaze, Michelle Williams. Williams does a very good job at communicating exactly what it is that everyone loves about Marilyn. The fact that when she is happy, smiles and plays around, no one can look elsewhere. She understands Marilyn’s charismatic qualities and highlights them as much as she can, she adopts her mannerisms and facial expressions she had adopted for her films but doesn’t go overboard. She effortlessly portrays the fact that she was much more subdued and scared in real life and that the clueless and always happy blonde was a part she played in films and in front of the press. She is alluring and draws you in, makes you care for her, in the way Colin does for her too. Kenneth Branagh is very entertaining as a Laurence Olivier driven mad by Marilyn’s shenanigans, while he is portrayed as another man who was caught between admiring, envying and not being able to handle her. What is very interesting about this film is this notion of knowing Marilyn only through the media, either as an actress, or through photos or articles in the press, manifests itself in the film’s mise-en-scène as well. A great deal of Michelle Williams’ shots strongly allude to quite well known photos of her, from coming out of a shower and wrapping a towel around her to lying on her bed with her bathrobe, which always seemed to fascinate audiences as they were able to imagine how she might have been in her personal life. My Week with Marilyn not only recreates a lot of these shots but, also, a lot of these themes that had her at a relaxed, personal but always sexualized state. Some reviewers have interpreted that as a reinforcement of the stereotypes around her image. However, I would argue that this, once again, is done deliberately in order to imply that this is all we can know about her. The people who had met her, talked to her, photographed her, are the ones who can all give us a glimpse into her world, as much as she will let them. And they had preconceived notions about her as well. As it happens with Colin and the audience along with him. However, I do feel that, if this is what they were going for, they should have made it a bit clearer. While I recognized the referencing of her photos and films, someone with less knowledge about her may have not. Instead of the film being either a straight forward, obvious pastiche based on Marilyn, the persona ala Todd Haynes’ take on Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, or the biographical film which conceals the fact that all we know about her personal life and character is what she had let on and what other have mentioned, it ends up somewhere in the middle. However, the opening scene more than hints at that as it doesn’t recreate a particular film or performance but, rather, references Marilyn’s image as a whole, using intertextuality to do so, as several of her songs and elements of mise-en-scène allude to several films she has starred in. Throughout the film, Marilyn is the object of everyone’s gaze, from photographers, to Olivier who can’t take his eyes off of her during shooting or when watching the dailies. Ultimately this is a film about the effect Marilyn has had on others much more than the effect others had on her Georgia Xanthopoulou at www.unsungfilms.com

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