At the movies: ‘My Week with Marilyn’ a loving look at one of the greats
January 2, 2012
“My Week with Marilyn”
3 out of 4 stars
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Watson
Andy Warhol tried to capture her image in silkscreen diptych paintings. Elton John paid homage to her through song.
The many attempts to portray one of the most matchless women ever to live don't do her justice, but "My Week with Marilyn" comes closer than any before.
In 1956, the only name in Hollywood is that of Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), the fantasy of every red-blooded male and the envy of every female. Her fame in the U.S. is just as prominent worldwide, with British movie personnel scrambling to get the actress involved in a project in their country.
With none other than the renowned Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) desiring Marilyn's attachment in his newest film, "The Sleeping Prince," she gladly makes the journey across the Atlantic with new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) to her adoring public overseas.
No one is more thrilled than studio worker Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), Olivier's third assistant director, whose willingness to do anything has helped him get his foot in the door of the movie industry, even if he gets stuck with all the undesirable jobs.
As filming commences, the silver screen goddess quickly grates on the nerves of domineering director Olivier, but as his leading starlet struggles to fall in with his timetable, her unexpected bond with Colin could be the key to getting the movie in the can on time.
It's inconceivable to think anyone could dare to recreate the same kind of sensuality that the woman who started her road to fame under the name Norma Jeane Baker exuded effortlessly. Even so, Williams manages to capture Marilyn's one-of-a-kind sex appeal — complete with feminine curves and a cooing inflection — and the fragile, cautious layer beneath her glamorous exterior.
Squaring off against the girl strictly known as a movie star, Branagh is pitch-perfect as Olivier, the master thespian of the 20th century, hoping to turn a new corner in his departure from serious theater productions.
But, his stodginess combined with his co-star's giggly disposition makes for a chemical explosion that could blow the roof off the studio without the proper vigilance.
Keeping things down to a boil is fresh-faced Redmayne, becoming a confidante for Ms. Monroe, engrossed by her siren song despite warnings from everyone around him not to fall in love with her. As if anybody could resist the most beautiful woman in the world.
Distinguished British personalities abound in the background, with Judi Dench as illustrious actress Sybil Thorndike, Emma Watson as a sensible wardrobe worker, Dominic Cooper as Marilyn's possessive producer and personal photographer, and Julia Ormond as Olivier's wife, Vivien Leigh, who can do no more than watch another woman step into the role for which she was deemed too old.
The movie that would eventually be known as "The Prince and the Showgirl" wasn't the biggest for either of its legendary stars, but as the intersection of their two worlds, it provides a fascinating look at two of film's most notable personalities.
Although Marilyn is primarily remembered as the prototypical airhead, this rendition of Colin Clark's memoir taps into the woman few people saw: a girl who needed to be loved and perceived as more than a sexpot and was more often than not let down by the world.
As Williams draws us in with a come-hither look from cornflower eyes, you can see the mental unrest starting to form.
Yet, the pill dependence and low self-esteem that would soon do in the lovely blonde fades whenever she's in the company of her adoring young fan, who knows he's going to get his heart broken and still does all he can to put a smile on her ruby lips.
"My Week with Marilyn" displays both the frustration its subject could bring about as well as the uninhibited joy she was capable of creating just by being herself. Knowing what's in store for the complex heroine threatens to wreck the sense of bliss that is maintained in the movie's best moments, but going against the gloom of reality was what Marilyn was all about.
"Candle in the Wind" may not be part of the soundtrack, but that metaphor flames on in spirit nonetheless.