Friday, November 18, 2011

Movie Review: My Week with Marilyn

Never has a woman been more mysterious or more universally popular than Marilyn Monroe. She was the very essence of the damsel in distress, the helpless little angel who needed a man to admire her every little pirouette, who seemed both naively unaware of her own sexuality, and yet constantly manipulating men of all size and stature using it. She was the epitome of everything that the feminist movement was against, and yet, there was a grudging admiration amidst that resentment. She was in the exact position that every woman would want to be in. I first wondered why a biopic on the life of Marilyn Monroe wasn’t called Norma Jean, but ten minutes into the movie, and you know that this isn’t Norma Jean, this is Marilyn. Not just during the shoot of the movie within the movie, but even more so outside of it. And she’s quite something.

My Week with Marilyn
British cinema has made habit of making episodic true-story films in the new millennium, and making them damn well. It started with The Deal and its sequels, the more popular The Queen and The Special Relationship. Then last year, The King’s Speech swept the awards roster. This year, they’re doing it again, taking a very short period of time, the film shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl, and introducing into the fray the last true universal sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe (Williams).
Narrated by Colin Clark (Redmayne), this adaptation of his memoirs chronicle the time he spent making his foray into the entertainment business, as a third assistant director on the production of Laurence Olivier’s (Branagh) collaboration with Monroe. It is in equal parts a love letter addressed to an unattainable fantasy and a diary note of a young man’s coming of age. Curtis tells the tale of a privileged man, who is obsessed with the movies, a career choice not respected by his family. He is the fabled underachiever, whose drive is fueled by his lack of appreciation, and is determined to make it on his own. His delight is elevated when the object of every man's affection at the time, Marilyn Monroe, is amongst the people it is his duty to serve. As he and Sir Laurence discover quickly, she is anything but the dream one sees on the silver screen, riddled with insecurities and obsessed with her method and acting coach, Paula Strasberg (wife to the legendary acting teacher behind the eponymous Lee Strasberg Institute). But whilst Larry finds her incorrigible, Clark is entranced by her apparent vulnerability. And after her then husband, playwright Arthur Miller (Scott) goes back to the States, following a particularly vicious fight, Clark is suddenly at the start of his week with Marilyn.
The film has numerous triumphs, amongst which the MOST significant is its phenomenal casting. Besides Williams, who I will come to later, every character is incredibly well suited to its portrayer. From Dame Judi Dench, playing the stateswoman actress Dame Sybill, to Julia Ormond in her brief but captivating imagining of the original Elsie Marina, Vivien Leigh (yes, Scarlett O’Hara). There is one particular scene for Ormond where she discusses her husband’s (Olivier) love for Monroe with the na├»ve Clark which is a perfect representation of the stiff British upper lip, and is just delightful to watch. A week with Marilyn cannot help but be rife with men though, and men completely besotted. Whether it was Redmayne with his cub to her cougar, or Branagh who is simultaneously frustrated and yet transfixed, Scott who is profoundly aware of his incompatibility with this nymphet or Jackson who was once in Redmayne’s place, and is working with Monroe purely out of devotion, even after having his heart broken. Each of these men is but one spoke of a life cycle of men who were charmed, right off their feet, by the magic that was Marilyn. The direction by Curtis is seemingly adequate, and the screenplay is delicate, but the film, a vast tableau of character studies, is theatre come to life, and rides entirely on its performances.
And speaking of performances, there is Michelle Williams. It is hard to believe that the same woman who was effortless in Wendy and Lucy could so entirely transform into this character. The threat that exists, that worried me before I went in to the screening, was the fact that Monroe is such a larger than life character, her appeal so entrenched in her affectations, that it would be almost impossible to play her with any measure of sympathy. And perhaps even more than that, Williams would be not just seducing the bevy of men lining up on the stage for her, but millions of people, most of whom have at some point had a cut-out of Monroe shaping their fantasies. Just the fact that she took on such an iconic role shows incredible chutzpah, and boy, does she deliver. She is in equal measure vulnerable and enticing, innocent and yet wily, and startlingly, she manages to embody that deep conflicting misery that consumed Monroe, without making any of it seem disingenuous. Her every laugh, twirl, smile, song, dance, everything brings back Monroe in a way that is absolutely breathtaking. There will be people who think this movie is less than other similar movies, but no one could deny that Williams’s turn is not astonishing, it is spell binding.
Meryl Streep has won two Academy Awards out of an incredible sixteen nominations. What is even more incredible is that whilst the last time she was nominated was just two years ago, her last win came almost 30 years ago. With her forthcoming biopic on Margaret Thatcher almost certain to net her nomination number seventeen, it would be heartbreaking to see her lose, but the American dream in the British film may just beat out the Iron Lady herself.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE Marilyn Monroe, and any chance to learn more about her is always welcomed. The story, while not overly dramatic or in-depth, is told with such care, and Michelle Phillips Marilyn is dazzling. I would've never imagined her in this role, but she portrays Marilyn with such skill and compassion.The entire cast was also great..