Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

The Other Side of Marilyn                     
by Zac Sanford

Michelle Williams seamlessly slips into the role of former sex-symbol Marilyn Monroe with ease and comfort. It is a natural and layered performance.  One can sit back and forget that they are watching an actor play a part, but instead Marilyn brought back to life from the past. Williams covers a huge emotional plane, from bright-eyed and focused to insecure and co-dependent, shifting on a dime.

While Williams is great as Marilyn, this isn’t just her story. Partially over-shadowed is a coming-of-age story about a boy, his first job and his first love. Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is the “My” referred to in the title, and the film is loosely based on his two memoirs about his time working on the production of The Prince and the Showgirl. As luck would have it, Colin’s family was friends with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and his current wife, Vivien Leigh (Julie Ormond). Sir Olivier hires the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Clark to work as his third director’s assistant, or in other words, a glorified errand boy.

Before the first frame is shot, Olivier is at war with Ms. Monroe. During a table read, Marilyn is unsure of her motivation and can’t find the truth of her character. Instead of taking advice from the director, she confides in her sole confidant, Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), the wife of the late acting guru Lee Strasberg. The two have opposing views on how to get to the truth and Laurence doesn’t like having a second director on the set.

Once the film starts rolling, it isn’t Marilyn’s own ego that further alienates her from the director and some of the cast and crew, but her insecurity in her ability to deliver a great performance. She is constantly late to set and flubbing lines. But when she’s on, she shines. She radiates on screen, showing the modern day audience why she’s been able to stand the test of time.

During production of The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn was accompanied by her third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). While they’ve only been married a short time, the honeymoon phase is already over, which sends Miller high-tailing it back to the States to be with his kids. He professes in his writing that he can’t stand the constant mood shifts perpetuated by her cocktail of prescription pills and insecurity. He, like many other men of the time, was in love with the idea of Marilyn, not who she was below the surface.

Alone and deeply insecure, Marilyn confides in Colin. He becomes her one true ally as they spend a week together away from the set and any obligations. Colin’s puppy-dog love for her is apparent from the beginning, but he’s forewarned to keep his feelings at bay. Marilyn knows she will end up hurting him like so many other men in her past. During this week we find out who Marilyn really is, what makes her tick and a little of what makes her aim for perfection. During a rendezvous out on the town, she sees some adoring fans and asks “should I be her,” before turning on the charm of Marilyn and posing for pictures in a typical Monroe pose.

While the week is short, the film opens up the audience to a side many have never seen. While most biopics are bogged down by an over-encompassing look from birth to death, the shortened window into the star’s life is refreshing. Williams shines above the rest of the cast in her portrayal of the title character, but she isn’t alone. Branagh is great, even if he does jump into a caricature at times in the film. The rest of the cast is filled with notable British actors Judi Dench, Toby Jones and Emma Watson.

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