Monday, February 27, 2012

Blogorium Review: My Week with Marilyn

 My Week with Marilyn is a good enough to pretty good movie that I just didn't really connect with. It's a well made movie, and it's a compelling - and true - enough story: Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) invites Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) to come to England to shoot the movie eventually named The Prince and the Showgirl (hands up if you've ever seen it - I wasn't even aware of it before this film). Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is the child of a family of distinction who wants to make it on his own, so he moves to London to work in pictures, eventually working his way up to third assistant director under Olivier.

 Monroe, who arrives with new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and entourage including Milton Green (Dominic Cooper), Arthur Jacobs (Toby Jones), and Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) her acting coach, begins behaving erratically almost immediately, to the consternation of Olivier. He objects to her inability to arrive on time, her Method acting style, and her mood swings. Clark is making the best of being the assistant to the assistant - David Orton (Roger Portal) - to Laurence Olivier. He is briefly involved with Lucy (Emma Watson), the costume girl, before becoming infatuated with Monroe, who takes a shining to the young man and insists her bodyguard Roger Smith (Phillip Jackson) arrange to pick him up and bring Clark over to the country home he found for her.

  The film is based on Colin Clark's diaries, detailing his experiences with Monroe, Olivier, and the film industry during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl, and that should make a more compelling film knowing that this happened, but I often found myself comparing My Week with Marilyn to An Education. Both films are about British youths finding their way in the world, getting involved with someone older despite being warned by nearly everyone else around them that this isn't going to work out. Of course, it doesn't work out, because it couldn't possibly work out being involved emotionally with someone married (something I might visit again when I get to reviewing The Descendants, a much better film about complicated relationships), but our protagonists plunge headlong and yet seem totally unscathed by the end of the film.

 I didn't enjoy the fact that despite the title An Education, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) didn't learn anything, nor did she appear to change in any way while insisting everybody around her was wrong. Eddie Redmayne's Colin Clark is very much the same, blatantly disregarding everyone he looked up when they tell him not to fall for Marilyn's "little girl lost" act. Olivier recognizes it as the strength of her natural acting ability, Milton Green tells Clark he had a similar infatuation that crashed and burned, but Colin won't listen. He's so delusional that he genuinely believes he can talk Monroe into giving up acting despite the fact everything she tells him explains that she needs him to play the role of someone "on my side" during the production.

 Like An Education, My Week with Marilyn ends without Colin seeming to have learned anything at all, encapsulated in a scene when he tries to rebound with Lucy. She asks him if Monroe broke his heart, and Colin smiles and says "a little." That Lucy says "good" and walks away is a hollow comeuppance for the guy we're supposed to relate to. I can't imagine the film failing in a more spectacular way than making the "ordinary" protagonist who brushes with greatness during the story of My Week with Marilyn exiting the narrative very much the same way he entered it. This has no direct bearing on the actual Colin Clark, but more likely tied to writer Adrian Hodges and director Simon Curtis, who are directly responsible for the film based on his diaries. Well, and Eddie Redmayne, who plays Clark as basically the same person from beginning to end. I can't help but think that there must have been a better way to portray Clark instead of an obstinate young man who doesn't seem even bothered when Marilyn Monroe inevitably pushes him away.

 Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are certainly fine in this film, and there are lots of other famous names in tiny parts: in addition to Dougray Scott and Toby Jones, you'll see Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, and Julia Ormond in the film (Ormond, in fact, plays Vivien Leigh, Olivier's wife who strongly suspects her husband wants to leave her for Monroe early in the film). It's a nice looking movie and I think the performances helped ease my distaste with the lack of character progression. It's entirely possible that many of you will enjoy My Week with Marilyn more than I did, and I do recommend it for Williams, who taps into the vulnerability of Monroe while never reducing her to the caricature everyone seems to expect in the film itself. It's the sort of performance that overcomes the weaknesses of the film and keeps you invested, even when you don't want to be.

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