Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn - ***

Directed by: Simon Curtis

Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Judi Dench

Review:  William Shakespeare brandished the quote “the whole world is a stage.”  While he never had the pleasure to meet Marilyn Monroe, if he did, that quote most certainly would have been a reference to her.    The world was her stage, humanity her audience, and Marilyn Monroe her character.  ‘My Week With Marilyn’ is a debatable account of a young gopher’s experience on set of the Marilyn Monroe film ‘The Prince and the Showgirl.’  Whether or not it’s true what happened is up for debate, but it makes for a compelling idea for a film.

The film contains Colin’s (Redmayne) re-telling of a story in which he claims to have had a one week “affair” of sorts, with the most famous female in the world, Marilyn Monroe (Williams).  Monroe here is portrayed as a self-conscious, shy, and utterly confused and emotionally damaged individual.  On the set of her film “The Prince and the Showgirl” she often times shows up late, has to have numerous takes to get even one workable scene, and retreats to her dressing room whenever she can.

Monroe was a special talent of the time.  As Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) laments, she has had no formal training, no schooling on acting, and yet her natural talent is through the roof.  It may take some effort to get it right, but when she does, it’s breathtaking.

At a mere moment’s notice Monroe is able to switch back into her character.  Not the one she’s portraying on screen mind you, but the one she is in her everyday life.  As a crowd gathers for Monroe outside one of her tourist stops in England she whispers to Colin “Shall I be her?” and then promptly saunters away for the crowd. 

Colin is so smitten with the character he doesn’t realize she’s putting on a performance for the world.  Such a scene has the audience questioning which Marilyn is the real one.  Colin doesn’t question because he doesn’t want to know the answer.  As the gopher, he is often sent to get Monroe and make sure she finds her way to the set.  He sees her in many compromising situations as a result.  She apologizes when he walks in on her crying.  He enters her room to find her highly sedated with drugs and laying on her chaise lounge. 

These moments are the mostly oddly fascinating about Marilyn.  When she is in a state of disarray and her awareness of her surroundings is lessened, so is her “character.”  It doesn’t appear clear whether anybody actually knew the “real” Marilyn Monroe, but it seems these moments were where she was closest to showing her true self. 

Marilyn Monroe was a very complex character.  If the movie is to be accurate it shows her to be a woman who wasn’t even really sure who she was.  She became so popular so quickly everyone began to put her into a box.  There was no way for people to reconcile what they saw on screen with who she was in reality so they began to project their desire for who she should be on to her.  Eventually, when enough people try to force you into a narrow view of who you should be, that persona begins to take on a life of its own.

Marilyn herself wasn’t able to reconcile this reality.  The people she surrounded herself with understood this.  They fed her drugs to keep her dazed and less aware of her surroundings.  An important side effect is her being less aware of herself.  These people didn’t want Marilyn to realize who she was.  If she did, then she would realize she didn’t need them.  They needed her more than she needed them and her “handlers” were willing to do anything at all to make sure she never realized this truth.

As Monroe, Williams captures her essence in many ways.  There will never be another Marilyn Monroe and therefore no actress’s depiction of her will be entirely perfect.  Somewhere along the line something will have to be sacrificed.  In this case, it’s her raw sexuality that must take a back seat.  As an actress Williams is solidifying herself as one of the best of her generation.  “Sexy” is not one of her strong suits.  Normally, it’s not an issue, yet it plays such a large part of Monroe’s persona that it becomes one.  This makes the entire movie just feel not quite right as you wonder if Williams is correct for the role for this reason.

However, every other situation in the movie involving Monroe is perfect.  While she may not have the sexuality, she has the gravitas to nail the softer and darker parts of Monroe’s personality.  It must be difficult to find the proper motivation for a character that is constantly acting and doesn’t even know who she is herself.  Williams is able to dig deep and find a center for Monroe.  All of this is able to override her sexual shortcomings and she is able to put together one of the best performances of the year.
Overall, I would say this movie is probably worth your time.

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