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    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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Review: MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

My Week With Marilyn is a funny, touching love note to Marilyn Monroe, both the legend and the woman. The story is based on the experiences of Colin Clark, who back in 1956 worked as a production assistant on The Prince and the Showgirl, which co-starred Monroe opposite Laurence Olivier. Clark published a memoir about working on that production, called The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me. But the story goes that Clark’s diaries also contain an account of one week during which Clark personally escorted Monroe around. If the movie is true at all, Clark had a sort of emotional fling with Monroe, becoming her protector and confidant.

Like everyone else, Clark was smitten by Monroe the legend, but unlike all but a few, Clark also got to know Marilyn the person. My Week With Marilyn is about Clark falling in love with both sides of Marilyn Monroe, about Monroe struggling to endure an alienating degree of fame, about Monroe’s doomed marriage to Arthur Miller, and about Olivier’s and Monroe’s strained working relationship during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl.

The story, though, is really the least interesting element of the film. Much more fun and fascinating are the profiles of Monroe, Olivier, and Olivier’s wife at the time, Vivien Leigh. Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, and Julia Ormond, respectively, capture the essence of each entertainment legend brilliantly.

Ormond plays Leigh realistically and sympathetically. Her Leigh is an aging actress feeling neglected by a husband who is entranced by his younger co-star (do you suppose Monroe caused jealousy each time she took a role?). It’s important to note that Ormond gives one of her best performances, because unfortunately she is going to be over-shadowed by Branagh and Williams.

It was inevitable that Branagh would play his idol, Olivier, at some point, and he doesn’t squander the opportunity. Throughout the filming of the film-within-the-film, Oliver is torn between his bewildering attraction toward Monroe and his completely understandable frustration at having to deal with her endless insecurities, idiosyncracies, and elusiveness. Branagh gets to deliver the funniest lines of the movie and quote Shakespeare multiple times. He is perfect for, and perfect in, the role.

But this is Williams’ movie. She inhabits the character fearlessly – because let’s face it, if you attempt to play Hollywood’s brightest legend and fail, the backlash could be unendurable. Williams doesn’t attempt to be a dead ringer for Monroe, but there are certain trademark mannerisms and vocal inflections that simply have to be done. Williams avoids a mere impression (like what Jamie Foxx did in Ray); her approach to playing Marilyn is closer to what Joaquin Pheonix did in Walk the Line. She captures the essence of Marilyn Monroe yet also humanizes her.

Marilyn Monroe devoured the camera, even in the smallest of roles. She walks onscreen, and bam! Whether you’re male or female, you just can’t take your eyes off her. Many actresses – including some very good ones – have played Monroe in the past, but I have never seen anyone replicate that effect as powerfully as Williams. I have to admit to being mesmerized by Williams just as I am each time I watch the real Marilyn. Then, Williams draws us into her character’s melodrama to the point that we feel just like Colin (Eddie Redmayne): willing to sacrifice whatever part of ourselves in order to rescue this girl, even though there is a distinct possibility that her “little girl lost” thing might be mostly fabricated, a way for Marilyn to use the men around her in order to manipulate the dynamics of the film shoot. She plays innocent and frail, but she might not be that at all.

Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Toby Jones, and Dominic Cooper all give excellent support. Zoë Wanamaker is also particularly good as Monroe’s method acting coach, Paula Strasberg.

I walked out of the theatre absolutely certain that Michelle Williams would win the Best Actress Oscar for My Week With Marilyn. The only reason I am no longer as certain is that the race is so competitive. Convincing cases could be made for Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia. I have yet to see Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, or Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but they will all be in the running, too.

Regardless whether she adds any statues to her mantle over the next few months, Williams has genuinely achieved something here. She has steadily graduated from that show she was once on to becoming one of our best actresses, and this is a bona fide heavyweight turn. She is sexy, frail, capricious, terrified, a woman, a girl, and a towering presence among towering presences (it says something when you outshine Branagh and Dench in numerous scenes). Her performance elevates My Week With Marilyn to one of the year’s best.

 

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