My Week With Marilyn
Michelle Williams is a very smart actress. Her Marilyn Monroe is beautiful, buxom, radiant, childish, cunning — all things the real Monroe either certainly was or clearly must've been — but she's also someone brand new to us, fashioned out of watery eyes, pouty lips and a calculated ditziness that keeps us glued but also guessing. It's easy to imagine the ways in which a lesser actress would've ruined the role (and, consequently, the entire movie), with spot-on imitation techniques and a cloying sexy-sweetness at the end of every phrase, but Williams knows she is not playing the Monroe we read about, or listened to, or watched. She is playing someone who must justify all the fuss; someone who gives a little only after she has taken a lot. A true heartbreaker from whose palm the world begs to eat.
No wonder Monroe has problems with drugs and drink. How tiresome it must be for her, the film rather generously suggests, to awake each day to her millions of devoted admirers, and yet to nobody whom she can really trust! Enter Colin, played splendidly by Eddie Redmayne (The Other Boleyn Girl), who fits rather nicely — and, by necessity, briefly — into Monroe's entrapping need for a doting companion.
Wealthy, adventurous and infatuated with movies, Colin wiggles his way onto the set of The Prince & The Showgirl, directed by the renowned Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh, good as usual). Colin could not have anticipated that he would become Monroe's confidant and guide for a fleeting seven days, but he does — much to Olivier's chagrin — and the result is, to say the least, picturesque.
It's hard to say, though, whether My Week with Marilyn is as good as Williams' brilliant portrayal. On the one hand it is an amusing comedy that thankfully keeps pace with Colin's diverting narrative — a sequence of naiveté, astonishment, madness and repair mirroring that of nearly any young romance. On the other hand, the film's capacity for poignancy rests solely on Williams' shoulders, and it occasionally paints the roses red with incongruously summative dialogue: "First love is such sweet despair, Colin," Judi Dench says, without a touch of irony (wince with me).
There are pockets of pure blandness, too. Julia Ormond, in the role of a lifetime as the notoriously vicious Vivien Leigh, squanders a rare opportunity to steal the spotlight from Williams. You'd think Ormond might've commanded her scenes with a bit more relish, if she had any idea what was at stake here. Historical biopics are, historically, shoe-ins for the Academy's acting nominations — especially when the historical figure is either showbiz or British royalty.
In the past decade, Helen Mirren, Reese Witherspoon, Jamie Foxx, Colin Firth and Marion Cotillard have all won Oscars this way, for playing Queen Elizabeth II, June Carter Cash, Ray Charles, King George VI and Edith Piaf, respectively. Ormond might have been a shoe-in for a best supporting actress nod, had she not blown it with a Leigh so conciliatory and simple.
The thing about My Week With Marilyn, though, is that it is not a biopic — not really. Taking place over the course of about a week (as the title so succinctly puts it), the film — much to its credit — does not bog us down in the early years of Monroe's life nor her tragic last days. It paints her living, breathing, loving in a brief flash, bookends that with sultry musical and dance numbers, and makes us wish we could spend a week with Williams-as-Monroe. Just once. With plenty of skinny-dipping.
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