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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 25, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 47
Williams becomes Monroe in lyrical My Week With Marilyn
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Williams becomes Monroe in lyrical My Week With Marilyn

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

My Week With Marilyn
Opening December 2


I can't say My Week With Marilyn is the most profound cinematic biopic I've ever seen. I can't say it does much to make its enigmatic central figure - the ethereal, gone before her time, legendary Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe - any more of a clearly defined creature. Simple, straightforward, not particularly interested in doing something profound or different, this isn't a movie that attempts to rewrite history or change perceptions, using an old-school, decidedly made-for-TV aesthetic to move its narrative forward while also offering up plenty of great moments and lines for its notable character actors to devour.

What I can say is that the movie itself is still marvelously entertaining, that director Simon Curtis (Cranford) and screenwriter Adrian Hodges (Tom & Viv, Metroland) have done a splendid job of fleshing out author and filmmaker Colin Clark's memoir in a way that feels authentic and true. I can also say the filmmakers have cast their film to perfection, allowing for stars Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper, Julie Ormoand, Zoë Wanamaker, and the enchanting Judi Dench to take their real-life characters to spellbinding, spectacular plateaus. Most of all, without a shadow of a doubt or a moment's hesitation, I can state for the record Michelle Williams is sublime as the titular central figure, deftly crafting a performance that easily ranks as one of the best of the entire year.

This film chronicles the 1956 shooting of the motion picture The Prince and the Showgirl. Directed by and starring Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh), the movie was to be the first British production Monroe would ever be involved with and an iconic pairing of two of the world's biggest and most magnetic stars. It was supposed to be a lot of things, but sadly a success it was not, the tumultuous six-month production resulting in one of the more intriguing and fascinating failures either star ever found themselves associated with.

Colin Clark (Redmayne), freshly graduated from Oxford, was a 23-year-old wannabe filmmaker who somehow managed to work his way onto the set and become one of Olivier's assistants. He became enchanted with Monroe, was able to see through her fragile façade, and came to understand her in a way few others involved with the production - even her closest friends and advisors like Paula Strasberg (Wanamaker), associate Milton Greene (Cooper), or newlywed husband Arthur Miller (Scott) - were able to do. For a brief period of time, the two shared an intimate, unknown friendship that defied both sense and logic, their relationship a mystery few knew about and even fewer could understand.

As the film progresses, it becomes more and more bewitching to watch Williams work. The way she taps into Monroe's insecurities, her documented neuroses, her innate shyness, and the way she had trouble dealing with what she saw as her own failings as an actress, adds together to create something mesmerizing. While looking little like the star herself, the two-time Oscar nominee becomes Monroe body and soul, and as the film progresses she slowly morphs from a pitiable secondary figure to the central protagonist responsible for moving things forward. As she and Clark's friendship grows, watching Williams blossom is beautifully intimate and emotionally rewarding, and the insight she finds inhabiting this still-vibrant Hollywood legend is undeniably extraordinary.

At the same time, it's hard to say that the film goes too far beyond your typical BBC or HBO production, and while the acting is impeccable on all fronts (Ormond, in particular, lights up the screen every time she makes an appearance as Olivier's wife, Gone with the Wind star Vivien Leigh), I can't say either Curtis or Hodges finds a way to energize the genre in any sort of noticeable way. There is a measured pace that is all too familiar, and from Redmayne's sturdy narration to the ephemeral nature of the denouement, there's little that feels unexpected or original.

Not that this matters too much. The story is still a good one, and the acting is magnificent across the board (I'd give both Branagh and Ormond supporting-actor nominations right this very second if I had a say in the matter). But, more than that, it contains a central performance from Williams that is as magnetic and as mesmerizing as the woman she is portraying. She is Monroe, becomes her right down to the marrow, making My Week With Marilyn a sojourn I reveled in and a cinematic vacation I can't wait to take again.

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