Tuesday, March 13, 2012

DVD REVIEW: My Week With Marilyn

The legend of Marilyn Monroe has become something beyond film and culture.  She was the first true icon, the first sex symbol in America, and despite her notorious penchant for poor acting and work ethic on set, Marilyn Monroe surpassed the bad publicity to live forever in the minds of everyone.  Over the last few decades, most have come to understand the sadness that was Marilyn Monroe, a hollow center hidden by a sexy facade that flew threw marriages and relationships without ever finding peace.  My Week With Marilyn attempts to uncover the psyche of America's favorite blond while keeping a narrow focus.  The film tells the story of Monroe and her time spent on the production of The Prince and The Showgirl, where she may or may not have had a relationship with a young assistant, Colin Clark, and where she most definitely got under the skin of Sir Laurence Olivier.

Eddie Redmayne plays Colin, our guide in the film.  Eddie has a great desire to get into Hollywood, and he fights his way into an assistant position to Laurence Olivier, played here by Kenneth Branagh in a brilliant performance.  Olivier is filming The Prince and The Showgirl, a whimsical comedy which he also plans to direct.  The early scenes show the bits and pieces of a film production coming together, and things begin to grind to a halt once Olivier decides to cast Marilyn Monroe in the lead.

Michelle Williams, nominated for her role, completely disappears into the role of Monroe.  At this point in Monroe's life she was fresh off her most recent divorce, dating the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott).  It takes some mountain moving to get Monroe to align with production, and when she finally arrives the film shows us why she was so difficult.  Her drug abuse was showing signs, her tardiness to the set delaying production, and her problems memorizing her lines consistently frustrating the consummate professional Olivier.  Branagh has great fire and energy as Olivier, whose patience wears increasingly thin with Monroe's act.  And all the while, according to Colin Clark's book - the source material for the film - Monroe began a May-December affair with Clark on set.  There is a bit of a problem with the source material, with the author claiming he had a relationship that was never documented otherwise, but let us suspend disbelief for the sake of debate.

The two main draws of the film are the performances from Branagh and Williams.  Again, Branagh is wonderful in his role, much deserving of his Supporting Actor nomination this year.  Clearly, though, this is a film belonging to Williams.  It must be a challenge to play such an iconic American symbol, one that transcends nationality to become a worldwide sensation.  That is why, I imagine, it's always been a difficult task for anyone to do an Elvis biopic well.  I cannot imagine trying to work through a role as Michael Jackson if a film were ever in the works.  Playing Marilyn Monroe would lend itself to caricature, an emphasis on her mannerisms that would ruin characterization.  Williams balances the very idea of Monroe with the development of a real character.  Her tricks are personified in Williams' performance, but she seamlessly creates a real character with true sadness and desperation.

The problem then arises with the rest of the film, a somewhat soggy and forgettable narrative elevated by the work of Branagh and Williams.  Eddie Redmayne is not memorable in a role which requires the audience to follow behind him.  There are other solid supporting roles, including Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh and Dame Judy Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, a career actress trying her best to help Monroe on the set.  But in the end, as an overall film, nothing stands out where it should.  Events come and go, and before you know it the film is over and very little has changed with these characters.  A simple slice of life tale can work sometimes with energy and forward momentum.  My Week With Marilyn, unfortunately, has little of those things.