December 26, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

It has a certain surface charm to it, particularly if you're interested in old movies and movie stars. But like Marilyn Monroe herself, My Week With Marilyn isn't that deep or that interesting. Nor is Michelle Williams's performance something to write home about. She's not embarrassing or inept, just unaffecting. She merely rustles up images of the real thing, who, we're reminded, was actually dull. Her inner circle may have sucked up to her like she was a brilliantly innovative and intellectual devotee to the craft of acting, but the bottom line is that people were fascinated with Monroe because they wanted to have sex with her or because they wanted to be like her, and that was why she was famous and adored (and hated, too, I imagine). The film offers up the classic "I'm-beautiful-so-no-one-thinks-I-can-act" portrait of Marilyn but declines to comment on it. This movie tries to make an awards grab without any fingers.

The "my" in the title is Colin Clive (Eddie Redmayne), a British film buff of a privileged family background who lands himself a job as third assistant director on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), which was directed by and co-starring Laurence Olivier. Redmayne's performance failed to win me over to his character, who just seemed like a spectator throughout the movie. His clunky narration at the beginning tries to rush us through his efforts to ingratiate himself with the British movie studio operated by Olivier. But his character doesn't at all appear to be fleshed out properly. He's just a kid with a wide-eyed love of movies, and his love never really comes across on the screen. He can smile and look entranced, but his movie love isn't infectious the way it ought to be.

Playing Olivier, Kenneth Branagh nails the voice and even manages to convince you that he looks like Olivier, midway through the production. Julia Ormond doesn't fare as well portraying Vivien Leigh. I just couldn't buy it. Maybe I'm not familiar enough with what Leigh looked like and sounded like off the screen (since most of us know her from her performances as deluded Southern belles).

The problem with My Week With Marilyn is that it's too bowled over by its subject matter, and expects us to feel the same without trying to win us over. The closest it gets to achieving this is during the brief moments where Williams performs two songs. The movie is momentarily transformed into something with real movement and passion and fun. But it doesn't last, and for most of the time, we're just supposed to sit back and adore Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. I don't think anybody took into account the possibility that some of us don't care about people's bizarre nostalgic obsession with a Hollywood bombshell. There are much more interesting actresses from that era. And Branagh's performance as Olivier, which is probably the most interesting aspect of the movie, will likely be ignored.

With Judi Dench as the actress Sybil Thorndyke, Emma Watson (who needs to stick to playing kids until she actually starts to resemble an adult) as a wardrobe assistant, Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller, Dominic Cooper as Milton Greene, Marilyn's assistant, and Zoe Wanamaker, as Paula Strasberg, daughter of Lee and acting coach of Marilyn. Directed by Simon Curtis.

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