My Week with Marilyn

20 Dec

Title: My Week with Marilyn
Year: 2011
Director: Simon Curtis
Writer: Adrian Hodges, based on the books by Colin Clark
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Emma Watson, Judi Dench, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper, Julia Ormond, Derek Jacobi
MPAA Rating: R, some language
Runtime: 99 min
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Metacritic: 65


My Week with Marilyn is a film I was looking forward to a great deal, a film that would look upon the week Colin Clark, just a third assistant director on the film she was shooting, spent with Marilyn Monroe in London during the summer of 1956 while she was film The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier, her co-star as well as director on that film. A film that would explore how Monroe, one of America’s most iconic women ever, was behind all the glamour that came with being the sexiest women alive, and just how much she wanted to escape from the expectations that label had thrust upon her, as well as from the pressure her work brought forth. And let me tell you something, this film one ever really needed one thing to work, which was a good Marilyn, and in Michelle Williams it found the best one it could ever hope for. She’s dynamite.

Seriously, My Week with Marilyn is the kind of film that I would recommend (to the heavens) based solely on one performance, because it’s the one thing it needed to be great, it needed an actress capable to really immerse herself in the shoes of a legend, to be believable as her. And, yes, this film has its flaws, certainly, but much like the actual Marilyn Monroe had the magnetism to make everything around her shine, so does Michelle Williams in portraying her, and every flaw this movie might have is more than made up for with her impeccable performance. The rest of the cast also does a fine job at lending Ms. Williams a hand, Kenneth Branagh is collecting some nice Oscar buzz himself as Sir Laurence Oliviar, a character he too certainly studied to the bone, and there’s Emma Watson in her first post-Potter performance. But this film depends just on one performance to sink or swim, and once you lay eyes on Ms. Williams you’ll want to stay for the whole picture, just looking in marvel at what she does with the role and ignoring the other bits that may be off.

Marilyn Monroe, after all, is an ideal in the minds of many, an ideal created over a half century ago and that still holds to this day for many of us. It wasn’t just the fact that she was so unbelievably sexy, it was the many more complex things she had going beneath those curves and sultry voice; the vulnerability, the sweetness, the things that made you want to cuddle with her and not just have sex with her. In the physical things, Michelle Williams still rocks it, she certainly spent some time studying her, and the blond hair and red lips are all there; but it’s in the intangibles that she really embodies Monroe, the way she gets us to understand such an icon, the stuff that went in her head as she had to find out how to handle the fact that she was such an icon to people without having it all implode on her.

The film kind of touches upon what that ideal meant at the time of its highest of highs to a regular guy like Colin Clark. For one week Monroe’s husband, the playwright Arthur Miller was away, production went on a break and she asked the young Clark, seven years her junior and more than ready to worship a star of her caliber and charm, to go away with her to a cottage. In that week he gets to observe Marilyn Monroe, how she was on set in front of the people that expected so much from her, and how she was in a much more private environment, going skinny-dipping in the moonlight (there’s a suggestion of a sexual encounter between the two, but it’s never totally confirmed).

There’s not much else to go on, not really all that much of a plot; Colin Clark is overshadowed by a number of other supporting characters; the direction isn’t anything special. But who cares, there’s still Michelle Williams, who I believe is the best actress under forty working today, she brings forth with such perfection the insecurities a legend had about herself at the peak of her superstardom, the insights that went in her mind, it’s just an incredibly soulful performance that’s certainly one of the very best given by a lead female in all 2011. There’s a scene in this film in which Judi Dench, playing Sybil Thorndike, explains to Olivier that it doesn’t matter much if Monroe can act or not because when she’s on screen she’s the only thing that matters. That same thing applies to Michelle Williams in this film, but the reason it applies so much is precisely because she’s such a phenomenal actress.

On Sunday when I saw The Descendants (which I gave an A+ to) and then Tyrannosaur (an A-) I said I loved this time of year because all of the great movies came out and you could see two great films in a row. Such is the case here again, the last film I saw last night was The Artist (an A+) and now I get to see this one, which I’ll have no problem ranking as one of the twenty best films I have seen in all of 2011 so far, above films like Margin Call or Beginners, and it’s a decision I make solely on the performance by Ms. Williams, an actress that makes us believe we knew Marilyn Monroe. Hell, an actress that makes us believe we knew each of the Marilyn Monroe’s there was, the public one, the private, and every other one in between. This is a genius performance, the fact that she had Kenneth Branagh to play alongside certainly helps, but, like Sybil Thorndike says, it’s only her that matters. Michelle, that is, not Marilyn.

Grade: A


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