Sunday, December 4, 2011

Meta-Movie: My Week with Marilyn

Anyone who’s basically ever lived anywhere but under a rock knows of the iconic actress Marilyn Monroe. But few ever got to see the real deal. My Week with Marilyn is a new film based on the diaries of Colin Clark, who was a 23-year-old newbie to the British film system when Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier starred in The Prince and the Showgirl, a musical that is hardly the most memorable thing that either starred in during their respective fruitful careers. As the third assistant director, Clark was, in his own words, basically the film’s gopher. In this position, however, he finds favor and intimacy with the film’s American star. 

The movie actually covers more than one week, instead focusing on the whole period of the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. Still, it’s a limited palette, but I’m glad that movie tackled only this time frame and didn’t try to do a broad sweeping portrait of Monroe’s entire life or career. My Week with Marilyn is based on true events (at least according to Clark’s writing), although as with any movie that purports this, I wonder just how accurate this is. (For a stellar example of how loose “based on true events” can be, check out the real story behind Saving Private Ryan some time.) For instance, I’m not 100 percent sure that I think the portrayal of Marilyn Monroe is spot-on. Williams no doubt has down the ditzy character that Marilyn played in many of her films but having her be all ‘Gee, I don’t know what he’s talking about?’ in a childish voice when not acting doesn’t seem to ring true. Luckily that side of Marilyn isn’t always the one on view throughout the movie. 

However, all in an all, I was thrilled with Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, even though I was somewhat unsure about this going in. I was wary in part from not having seen Williams in enough prior films to be sure of her abilities and in part from having seen other movies based on Monroe’s life where the actresses did not look, sound, and/or act right – or even anywhere near right. Williams, on the other hand, was transformed to really look and sound like Marilyn, so much so that you could almost be fooled at times into thinking here was the real Marilyn Monroe before you. Also like Monroe, Williams lights up the screen when she’s on it and you want to look at nothing her radiance. (It’s a very different feel than her sort of ‘plain Jane’ role in The Baxter, the only other movie I’ve seen her in.)

Williams is surrounded by a cast full of a lot of Hollywood big hitters including Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper, and Dame Judi Dench. Excepting Kenneth Branagh who was also astoundingly good as Sir Laurence Olivier, all the other actors did fine, although not particularly noteworthy, jobs with their roles. 

Overall, My Week with Marilyn is entertaining and does not disappointing, but beyond Ms. Williams’s transformation, I wasn’t blown away. I would by no means steer anyone away from watching it, but having seen it once now, I’m good for the long haul.

As an aside, one of the previews at the theater today was for The Artist, which looks amazing and actually has the feel of an old-timey movie when so many others fall short in the respect (I’m looking at you The Aviator, for starters). It’s apparently actually a silent film, which I think is an awesome move. I will definitely be watching this one at some future point.

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