Friday, April 20, 2012

My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis)

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

"My Week with Marilyn" is a textbook example of great performances trapped within the confines of an 'okay' movie. The film, mainly about the tension between Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier during the making of "The Prince and the Showgirl" and also about her brief (though harmless) liaison with an employee working on the said production named Colin Clark (whose memoirs this film has been based), lacks in storytelling urgency and may have been too mundanely directed (by Simon Curtis) that it has resulted on it being less fascinating than it should have actually been mainly because of the fact that it has relied more to its actors' strong performances (which, in ratio, is not particularly healthy for a film that seeks balance), specifically Michelle Williams' and Kenneth Branagh's, rather than the substance of the very material itself.

Not turning their roles into complete caricatures nor try-hard impersonations, both Michelle Williams, who deservedly got an Oscar nod for her incredibly vulnerable portrayal of cinema's greatest sex icon that is Marilyn Monroe, and Kenneth Branagh, who played the legendary film and theater actor Laurence Olivier, stayed true to what the film is humbly all about and did not act beyond the stature of the very topic itself.

"My Week with Marilyn", though it features movie icons (include Vivien Leigh there, played by Julia Ormond) in a light that bared their all too human side, is not really about their lives but more about the nuances of their fame. Hell, the film is not even mainly and solely about Marilyn Monroe either. Instead, the film shows the exploits of Colin Clark (well-played by Eddie Redmayne) when he worked as an employee in Laurence Olivier's production company and his subsequently unforgettable 'week' with Marilyn Monroe herself that is self-affirming yet heart-breaking and worth forgetting.

The said production outfit, at the time preparing for a film called "The Sleeping Prince" (later renamed as "The Prince and the Showgirl") starring Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, is a dream come true for Colin, who grew up constantly watching motion pictures with utmost delight. The film's production then started, and so is Colin's fueled enthusiasm as he navigates through dressing rooms and movie sets with starry-eyed curiosity and as if functioning on a trance. He indeed enjoys what he's doing so as far as existential clich├ęs are concerned, he finally found the place where he truly belongs. But for Marilyn, in contrast with Colin's workplace 'high', seems to sleepwalk through the production, with her heart struggling to find the essence of her showgirl character, her emotions a mess, and her mind a confused car-wreck. As a result, shoots are delayed, casts are frustrated and Laurence Olivier (who's also the picture's director) surely is infuriated.

Branagh, playing Olivier in one of the most perfectly cast roles in quite a long while, which is an understatement, really, because the inevitability of him crossing paths with Olivier one way or another is but given (both Shakespeare graduates, on stage and film), seems to channel him in a way that is humorous, melancholic and on-the-edge all at the same time; indeed an aspect in his Olivier characterization that he has purely derived from his very own acting energy and his inclination in combining overwhelming emotions with quasi-theatrical gestures.

Michelle Williams, on the other hand, has fully erased all skeptical notions towards whether or not she can do justice to the Marilyn Monroe role. Once, I've even read many posts in an internet forum repeatedly stating that she was terribly miscast in the part and the likes of Scarlett Johansson, who's appropriately buxom just like Monroe, should have played her instead.

Well, to begin with, I beg to differ with that alternative choice. If by chance Monroe has been played by Johansson instead, who's a modern sex icon in her own right, it will probably distract from Monroe's almost mythical screen presence (As a result of countless comparisons between the two that may also conjure up futile arguments) which will ultimately ruin the film's very impact.

So Michelle Williams, although armed with the proper acting credentials (with her great, Oscar-nominated performance in "Blue Valentine" the previous year), still has insurmountable odds working against her. But still, she has succeeded with what she's tasked to do, which is indeed a very tall one, to say the least. Mixing seductive playfulness that has always been a Monroe trademark with the illicit sadness commonly identified with larger-than-life movie stars, Williams, in a rather stellar effort that has certainly paid off in a very exemplary way, has finely portrayed Marilyn Monroe both as a movie star and as a conflicted young woman (though I think she has succeeded with the latter more) lost in a haze of bright lights and disheveled by the burden of fame.

All in all, I have to say that "My Week with Marilyn" is a fairly forgettable venture towards a potentially otherwise territory. But with the help of the performances (with Dame Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper and even Emma Watson providing additional attractions) and the film's conscious commentary regarding the sad and empty lives that many famous people pitifully lead once the novelty of fame finally wears off, the film has been at least particularly memorable. But still, I felt that it all just came and go, with only the portrayals being the ones able enough to leave a relatively enduring mark.

FINAL RATING
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