Monday, August 27, 2012

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe: Little girls should be told how pretty they are. They should grow up knowing how much their mother loves them.  ~from My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Having watched The Prince and the Showgirl starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe an inordinate number of times, I made a point of seeing the recent film about the making of it. The main contention of My Week with Marilyn seems to be to prove (once again) that Marilyn could indeed act. Seeing Michelle Williams portraying Marilyn's showgirl character Elsie Marina with only a fraction of the bounce and verve that Marilyn gave to the original role has indeed convinced me that I, for one, have underestimated Marilyn's talent. Especially since the new film emphasizes the fact that Marilyn was a psychological shipwreck throughout the production, unable to sleep or remember her lines, while indulging in lengthy crying jags. It is only through the intervention of a gallant young British gentleman named Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who showers Marilyn with chivalrous attentions in order to boost her flagging self-esteem, that the 1956 movie is completed at all.

To quote the review from The Wall Street Journal:
The week in question was in 1956. That's when Colin Clark, a young Oxford graduate from a distinguished family, worked as a lowly gofer on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl," an Edwardian comedy that starred Marilyn Monroe opposite Laurence Oliver, who was also the film's producer and director. The pairing was as exasperating as it was unlikely. Olivier, a no-nonsense professional who happened to be a genius of stage and screen, couldn't abide Monroe's neediness, her spasms of neurotic paralysis, or the protective people around her who conflicted with his directorial authority. The new movie, which was adapted from Clark's published recollections, is told from his perspective; he's played appealingly by Eddie Redmayne. Michelle Williams is Marilyn and Kenneth Branagh is Olivier.

The best part of "My Week With Marilyn" is a coming-of-age-story: Colin became Marilyn's friend and companion, and grew to understand the fear that prompted her erratic behavior. (He went on to become a noted writer and filmmaker.) But the main part is the battle of the stars, and it clanks false on both sides. Mr. Branagh's Olivier is a busy parody, stripped of his subject's rapier wit on stage and his simplicity offstage. Ms. Williams's dear-in-the-headlights Marilyn displays one quality at a time—usually kewpie-doll vulnerability—without a hint of the shrewdness and technical knowledge that Monroe brought to her sets. The only suggestion of spontaneity occurs when Ms. Williams does a delightful little dance taken directly from Monroe's screen performance. The only convincing character is Sybil Thorndike, who seems to have been taken directly from Judi Dench's unerring instincts.
Williams' performance is touching although she cannot seem to come out of herself the same way that Marilyn could. Yet she is able to communicate Marilyn's child-like wonder at the sights of Britain, while also showing the unhappy little girl inside who is always looking for the love she had missed from her parents. Although Julia Ormond is a lovely, gracefully aging actress, she made an abysmal Vivien Leigh. When I first saw her nose it frightened me and I thought, "What have they done to Vivien?" Kenneth Branagh as the great Olivier did not bother me as much as it does some people, simply because I did not expect much. No one can be Olivier but Olivier.

1 comment:

julygirl said...

I believe the only reason the film got any notice is that it is about Marilyn. The actors are horribly mis-cast. It would be like having Mickey Mouse play Golum in the Lord of the Rings. Why they thought a short, dumpy, pasty faced Kenneth Branaugh could take the role of Olivier is beyond me.....but like you, seeing Michelle Williams play Marilyn made Marilyn's unique mystique and aura startlingly evident.