THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"MY WEEK WITH MARILYN"
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. Unexpected casting, but it works.
Based on a true story, My Week with Marilyn poses a fascinating question: What would you do if the sexiest and most famous movie star in the world was inexplicably drawn to little old you? That's precisely what happens to Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a gopher working for Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on a production of 1957's The Prince and the Showgirl. The star of the film is none other than Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), who arrives in London with a sycophantic acting coach in tow. From the start, she is needy and insecure. She can't remember lines or find her character's motivation. She repeatedly blows takes. It drives the efficient Olivier up the wall.
Marilyn is married to Arthur Miller, and when he leaves to return to the States, she falls apart. Colin is the only one who will speak honestly to her. Unexpectedly, she responds to that. Soon, he becomes a trusted confidante that she wants around all the time. She performs better under his reassurance, so Olivier allows it. Colin begins neglecting Lucy (Emma Watson), the young woman in the costume department he'd been pursuing before Marilyn came to town. He's smitten by the star, and who could blame him, especially when Marilyn makes some amorous advances?
It should be said from the outset that My Week with Marilyn is not a movie about Marilyn Monroe, per se. She's a major character, and the action revolves around her, but we experience her through the eyes of Colin. In other words, don't expect the picture to be a complex portrait of the woman. It does, however, effectively portray how this young, starstruck man gets sucked into her dysfunction. In the early stages of their friendship, Colin is warned by one of Marilyn's handlers to be careful, because she has a repeated habit of forming intense attachments while on location, then abruptly pulling away. Colin doesn't listen to that advice, but finds it to be prescient. This is the aspect of the film that I found most engrossing.
Michelle Williams is very good as Marilyn. I didn't expect that. In the opening minutes, I was sure her performance wouldn't work. I kept seeing “Michelle Williams dressed as Marilyn Monroe.” But then her performance settles in and becomes believable. In a wise move, Williams chooses not to overdo it. Lots of actresses have played Marilyn. Typically, they seem unable to get beyond the iconic exterior to find the human being inside. Williams, on the other hand, creates an authentic character. Her Marilyn is a train wreck for sure, yet we can see that her utter train-wreckness is caused by insecurity and self-doubt. She doesn't mean to use Colin, she just can't help it. Just as compelling is the fact that Colin chooses to be used. Even though he has a perfectly lovely potential girlfriend waiting for him, he wants to indulge the fantasy at all costs. My Week with Marilyn shows us something we don't see too often in films: a genuinely co-dependent relationship. Colin willingly deludes himself because he wants to ride on Marilyn's roller coaster of a life.
Williams will get the bulk of the praise for her acting here, which is fine, because she's fantastic. The best performance, though, comes from Kenneth Branagh, whose Olivier is both exasperated by and attracted to Marilyn's chaotic “process.” Getting her scenes on film is torture, but once they're captured...well, the girl delivers magic. Branagh perfectly conveys the dueling viewpoints Olivier has on his star. Judi Dench also delivers strong work as one of the other actresses on The Prince and the Showgirl, a woman who tries to keep the peace on set. Eddie Redmayne has kind of a bland quality, but I think that's intentional. Colin Clark is an average Joe. Nothing special about him. By being bland, Redmayne makes us understand why Colin would voluntarily put himself in a no-win situation. It represents a chance to be not bland for a change.
My Week with Marilyn has lots of terrific behind-the-scenes-of-a-movie sequences to go along with its depiction of a codependent fling. It is entertaining as both a celebration of old Hollywood and as a relationship story. The film, directed by Simon Curtis and written by Adrian Hodges (based on Colin Clark's memoir), recognizes the allure of movie stars, who seem so luminescent and sexy and hard to resist. It can feel as though they exist in a higher stratosphere; capturing the notice of one can be seductive. Colin Clark was seduced. As a young man in my early 20s, I probably would have been easily seduced by a glamorous movie star too. Wouldn't you have been?
( 1/2 out of four)
My Week with Marilyn is rated R for some language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.
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