Saturday, 10 December 2011

Marilyn and Michelle: "My Week With Marilyn"

I think nowadays we take for the notion of fame for granted. We're bombarded with magazine covers and reality shows. It always seems like anyone can become famous so it doesn't seem like a big deal. There's a scene in My Week with Marilyn where Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) are swarmed by reporters when they gets off a plane in London. When we see this, we grasp what's it like not just to be famous, but to be FAMOUS. Despite the glamour of it all, there's a messiness to it as well.

It's the messiness of fame which is underneath the surface of My Week With Marilyn. It's what suffocated Marilyn. It pushed her in to playing a part even when she's not on screen. Marilyn Monroe is just another role to play- but she didn't just want to play Marilyn Monroe. She wants to be taken seriously as an actress. This is what led her, in 1956, to take the role of Elsie in the film version of Terrence Rattigan's play, entitled The Prince and the Showgirl. The film was directed by Laurence Olivier, who also played the prince, a role he originated on stage, with his wife Vivien Leigh in the role of Elsie.

My Week With Marilyn shows us the troubled production of the film through the eyes of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an assistant director to Olivier. The film is based on two of Clark's books, The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me and My Week With Marilyn. In these books Clark alleges he and Monroe had a love affair. I don't know if Clark is telling the absolute truth but the books provide the film with the chance to romanticize the love a young man can have for a beautiful movie star. The irony is no matter how close Colin gets to Marilyn and learn about her, he can still only love the image of Marilyn. He calls her a goddess but I don't think Marilyn wants to be built up as a goddess. She just wants to be viewed as a person but I don't think Colin can truly get past the image; maybe because Marilyn is stuck inside this image.

I've realized I've gone through this review without mentioning who plays Marilyn. Michelle Williams is beautiful and radiant in the part. There are many times where I forgot it was Williams. I think her performance deserved a more expansive film about Marilyn. In this film, Marilyn almost seems like a supporting player than the main character. The making of this film and her relationship with Colin would have more impact as something central to a conventional biopic. By itself, the story seems too small.

My favourite parts of the film are the making of the film. Kenneth Branagh, who was deemed Olivier's heir when he first came on the scene as a Shakespearean actor, plays Olivier with a humorous flippancy towards Monore's acting style. Olivier was a classically trained stage actor while Monroe was interested in the method. She even brings her teacher Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) along with her. It's funny to see Olvier, who was this towering presence as an actor, treat acting as it was just a mechanical process. Judi Dench does fine work as Dame Sybil Thorndike. Julia Ormond gives Vivien Leigh a delicacy and acceptance towards being too old to play Elsie. It's also nice to see Harry Potter's Emma Watson as a  wardrobe assistant named Lucy, who is Colin's first's love interest. Unfortunately, her role comes across as a little superfluous. She only seems to be here in order to tell Colin he deserved to have his heart broken, though I didn't belive he did.

People have said that with this film, Monroe was trying to be taken seriously as an actress, and Olivier was trying to be a film star. In essence, they both want to be each other. The disappointing thing about discussing the ideas regarding Marilyn's relationships with Colin and Olivier, is that these ideas are more interesting than the film is either aware of or willing to explore. I appreciated My Week With Marilyn for its performances and is pleasantness. It's an enjoyable film but outside of Williams and Branagh's performances, I don't think it's an essential film.   

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