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"MY WEEK WITH MARILYN"
(2011) (Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A lowly crew member befriends and then falls in love with Marilyn Monroe on the set of her 1956 comedy, "The Prince and the Showgirl."
PLOT:
In the summer of 1956, Colin Clark (EDDIE REDMAYNE) is hired as a lowly assistant director working for Laurence Olivier (KENNETH BRANAGH) and Vivien Leigh's (JULIA ORMOND) movie production company. Olivier is about to go into production on what would become "The Prince and the Showgirl," a fairly forgettable screwball comedy in which he co-stars with American star and international sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (MICHELLE WILLIAMS).

Once in production, Monroe begins to exhibit strange behavior. She is experimenting with the new Method style of acting, is accompanied at all times by an acting coach, is frequently late to the set, and is clearly under the influence of pills and liquor. She is having marital problems with her introverted husband, Arthur Miller (DOUGRAY SCOTT); tests her longtime publicist, Arthur Jacobs (TOBY JONES); and frequently clashes with her overly controlling business partner, Milton Greene (DOMINIC COOPER), and on-set acting teacher, Paula (ZOE WANAMAKER). Her antics frustrate Olivier, but Dame Sybil Thorndike (JUDI DENCH) tries to take the starlet under her wing and show her support.

Monroe ends up taking a liking in Colin, who puts his romance with wardrobe girl Lucy (EMMA WATSON) on hold to be the movie star's companion. Colin ends up falling in love with Monroe even as he sees her at both her best and her worst.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Some will knock "My Week With Marilyn" as being slight and insubstantial. This time of the year, we're accustomed to seeing Oscar-caliber pictures that are "about things," about issues and grand emotions and heavy drama. With some heavy campaigning going on for Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in this offering, I prepared myself for a film in which we'd see the 20th century's prototypical sex symbol bombed out of her shell, strung out on drugs, and bawling about her loss of humanity and the soul-crushing forces that would eventually spin her life completely out of control.

And, yes, some of that is in there...certainly enough meaty drama and melodrama to get the performance taken seriously by the good folks behind the Oscars, Golden Globes, and SAGs. For the most part, though, this is Marilyn at the height of her star appeal, her sex appeal, and her screen appeal. Williams captures how magnetic a movie star Marilyn Monroe was. I think she is awesome in the role, showing us her selfishness and vulnerabilities but also clearly depicting why she was a star of her time and of all time.

The film centers on the making of the somewhat obscure screwball comedy, "The Prince and the Showgirl," which paired Monroe with legendary Shakespearean actor Laurence Olivier (a terrific Kenneth Branagh). At the time, Monroe had turned to the newfangled Method style of acting, and her struggles with grasping its discipline brought her into direct conflict with Olivier and the other classically trained, largely British cast and crew members. Her confidence shaken badly, Monroe frequently shows up late for filming and flubs many of her lines when she is on set. Olivier's frustration grows in ways both comical and exacting.

At the same time, Monroe's marriage to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) is falling apart, and she turns to the film's lowly third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) who she comes to confide in during increasingly frequent breaks away from the production. Colin is actually the film's main character. The film is told completely from his perspective, and he comes off as what one would call today a "fanboy."

The film doesn't work specifically because it's about one guy among millions in love with Marilyn Monroe who actually gets to skinny dip with her, take her on dates, and kiss her. It works because anyone who has ever been infatuated with a celebrity can put themselves in Colin's shoes and marvel at the amazing luck the guy had in that brief time he was assigned to watch after Monroe and keep her head clear.

Again, this is a film that is not really about anything great or even substantive. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and was completely entertained by it. Yes, part of it is because I love cinema and cinema history. So seeing Branagh's take on Olivier, Williams' take on Marilyn, and Julia Ormond's performance as the aging Vivien Leigh (Olivier's wife and great love) was just a thrill. But, again, as specific in setting and time as this film is, anyone can empathize with what Colin goes through in this movie.

Mostly, though, the film will be remembered for Williams' performance in the title role, and that's a bit of a shame. The supporting cast here, which also includes everyone from Toby Jones as Monroe's publicist Arthur Jacobs to Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, is also both game and uniformly excellent. It's par for the course for such players to barely be acknowledged when there is a central performance the film is built entirely around. It's frustrating when you see great and talented performers and their performances ignored in flicks like "Ray," "Walk the Line," and this one.

They are the glue that holds this enjoyable film together. "My Week With Marilyn" will appeal the most to people who grew up in the time of Monroe, Olivier, and Leigh -- meaning older moviegoers -- much in the same way "The Muppets" is appealing most to those who were young when the original "Muppet Show" and Muppet movies were first hitting. But like that film, there is the chance for a broader appeal here, too. I rate it a 7 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 22, 2011 / Posted December 2, 2011


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