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My Week With Marilyn
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by Jay Seaver

"Goddess and mortals."
4 stars

Though "My Week with Marilyn" chronicles one star on one specific movie set, I suspect that a number of people in the movie business who never had any interaction at all with Marilyn Monroe or Sir Laurence Olivier watched it and nodded their heads in understanding. The former Norma Jean Baker is, as an individual perhaps as inscrutable as ever when it's done, but we do get a look at the subspecies she represents so perfectly, the movie star.

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the younger scion of a country squire, loves the movies, and uses connections and sheer stubbornness to get an (unpaid) position on the staff of Laurence Olivier's production company. Sir Laurence (Kenneth Branagh) has cast Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) as his female lead in his new movie, the lightest of light comedies about a European prince who falls for an American dancer, but it turns out to be far from smooth sailing: Monroe is thoroughly intimidated by Olivier and England in general, eventually only trusting the rather smitten Colin.

We see this mainly from Colin's point of view - screenwriter Adrian Hodges adapts the real-life Colin Clark's two memoirs - and it's perhaps worth asking if maybe his story of his involvement grew in the telling. Who wouldn't, in the decades that followed, exaggerate how close he got to the sexiest star of the era? There are occasional points where the words of a more experienced, insightful man come out of the mouth of the 23-year-old Colin's mouth, which can be a bit odd, considering that he will soon revert to his previous, naive state. This isn't a bad thing by any means - as a narrator, he seems more reliable than not, and he isn't nearly superfluous as the typical "relatively-ordinary guy meant to be the audience's proxy" character.

Still, there are times when one wishes Colin would step aside and let the movie focus on the things that aren't familiar, at least for much of the audience. Perhaps the most interesting facet of My Week with Marilyn is the way it examines the very concept of a movie star: As much as Hodges, director Simon Curtis, and star Michelle Williams do depict Monroe as a flawed human being, there's also something almost alien about her. Put aside Colin's fairly unremarkable coming of age story, and the entire film is about what a disruptive thing a Marilyn Monroe is: She draws reactions that are outside easy explanation - even the people used to dealing with beauties and celebrities are in awe of her - but nobody knows how to deal with that sort of outlier. You can't interact with a goddess the way you would with an ordinary person, even one who thinks of herself as human.

Getting that across is a pretty neat trick on Williams's part. An actor often connects with the audience by finding ways to communicate what the character is thinking, but Williams often has to show us actions that come without thinking, simultaneously expressive and unknowable. It's a fine impersonation, sure, but it's just as much tortured savant as sex kitten.

Kenneth Branagh does something complementary, presenting Sir Laurence Olivier, generally considered an outlier in his own right, as thoroughly human. Not necessarily rational or genuine - Sir Laurence can be just as much of a diva as Monroe, in his way - but despite the man being a genius, everything he does comes from a place us ordinary people can see. Branagh has, the joke goes, been trying to be Olivier his entire career, and he nails a lot of things that while they seem weird at the time (like his accent during the early parts of the movie) but make sense by the end (of course Olivier would be trying to find the right accent for this character).

Eddie Redmayne does his best to hold his own in this cast - he's more affable than bland most of the time, and has good chemistry with both Michelle Williams and Emma Watson as the costumer with whom he strikes up a relationship. The cast is full of terrific people like Watson in smaller roles - Judi Dench as veteran actress Sybil Thorndike, Dougray Scott as Monroe's husband Arthur Miller, Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, Michael Kitchen as the head of Olivier's production company, and Derek Jacobi as Colin's godfather.

Cinemaphiles will likely watch this movie in part to learn about Monroe, Olivier, and the other big names, but cinema history is not so much the point. As a look at the nature of celebrity, though, "My Week with Marilyn" is both interesting and entertaining.

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originally posted: 01/06/12 14:26:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Film Festival For more in the 2011 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 47th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 47th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/04/12 David Hollingsworth Michelle Williams radiates once again. 4 stars
1/26/12 Devin Sabas great cast, good acting, soso movie 3 stars
1/17/12 Jenny Tullwartz Quaint romp, but with the feel of tribute to the sugar-coated Marilyn mystique. 4 stars
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  23-Nov-2011 (R)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2012


  DVD: 27-Mar-2012

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