Monday, November 28, 2011

a weak week with marilyn

In the summer of 1956, 23-year old Colin Clark (freckly, fresh-faced Eddie Redmayne) worked as an assistant on the tumultuous set of Laurence Oliver's (Kenneth Branagh) picture The Prince and the Showgirl (the title of which ends up being fitting for Clark's story).  While everyone else coddled and berated its star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) for her tardiness and inconsistency, Clark developed a unique friendship with her and briefly won her affection.

If only My Week With Marilyn was as bold and interesting as its leading performance and its subject matter.  The script, penned by Adrian Hodges (who wrote Tom & Viv, another uneven biopic), sledgehammers too much and goes for gooey first love tropes (Clark is repeatedly warned by stern men not to get too involved).  We are informed of the plot before the opening credits and are treated to banal narration within the bookends. Ominous, loud flashbulbs appear relentlessly, as they do in most generic movies about movie stars.  The dialogue is simply not comedic enough for the froth fest it aspires to be.  Perhaps mirroring Monroe in distress, the score, by Conrad Pope, behaves like the film--often ill-fitting and awkward, going from peppy and jazzy to tony and serious. Because much isn't cooked up overall, the scenes backed by Nat King Cole tunes feel as dramatically listless as perfume ads.

Director Simon Curtis, a Masterpiece Theater vet, assembles a strong, familiar British cast (Branagh, Judi Dench, and young Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame among them).  Appropriately, Williams is the odd girl out.  Few young actors of recent cinema have been able to display fragility and vulnerability as well as her.  In Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine, her characters wallow and fret over their men until they reach breaking points.  What works here is that Williams is an actress playing a risky part of an actress playing a risky part.  What doesn't work is the film around her.  Perhaps Clark is too flat, too smitten and too innocent (his slight, 23-year old musings feel like those of a 16-year old) to be the film's protagonist.  The film is simply a flavorless, Harvey Weinstein bon bon when Monroe isn't around.  Watson, as a movie costume gal with a crush on Clark, endures a throwaway part.  A few of the supporting cast have their moments though.  It's fun to watche Branagh quote Shakespeare, even if his film performances, as it is here, are often too broad. And Dench does what she does best in a minuscule role as Sybil Thorndike.  Julia Ormond's Vivien Leigh, who played Monroe's part onstage to great acclaim, talks incessantly about aging and in one oddly placed scene, rails against and praises Monroe in a fit of jealousy.  Mostly tedious, the movie comes to life in its rare, darkly funny moments: Monroe opens a Windsor Castle doll house, stares longingly at the figures, and remarks, "There's me, there's you and there's our child." **

-Jeffery Berg

A photo with her then husband, Arthur Miller, from the Parkside House in the year the film was set.

And some writing from Monroe, which can be found in the book Fragments.

my love sleeps besides me--
in the faint light--I see his manly jaw
give way--and the mouth of his
boyhood returns
with a softness softer
its sensitiveness trembling
in stillness
his eyes must have look out
wonderously from the cave of the little
boy--when the things he did not understand--
he forgot
but will he look like this when he is dead
oh unbearable fact inevitable
yet sooner would I rather his love die
than/or him?


  1. Gorgeous post!
    Must see this film!


  2. I still want to see it though...the story sounds intriguing and it's really a shame that you didn't like it. I really love michelle williams. she is such an incredible actor and I just love how down to earth she seems in every interview I read.

  3. I’m so curious about the movie. Can’t wait to see it!


  4. to me, Michelle is the only one among American actors who deserves to be called a thespian like her British and Australian colleagues.
    I also want to watch the film for Eddie Redmayne, who is one of my fav young Brits

  5. Another gorgeously-written post. I suspect I've enjoyed your write up more than I'll enjoy the movie. I'll still give it a look though! Thank you for your honest critique of the film!

  6. Great review. Thanks for sharing. Michelle is really in a league of her own amongst young stars. I'm curious to see this now!

  7. I have heard of so many conflicting stories over the years as to this period that I am very intrigued to see this.

  8. thank you for visiting loving your post at the moment keep them coming :)))

  9. I've also read similar reviews about the film not measuring up to its actors. it may still be something to watch, though.

  10. I think seeing this flick w/out expectations is the key to enjoying it. Your review is, as always, spot on. Esp re: Kenneth B's "broad" performance, ha! So true...

  11. Great review. I think I enjoyed the film as a whole a little more than you did, but I think it's because Williams' performance was so good that I let it carry everything else along with it.