My Week With Marilyn is good, if you buy the story

My Week With Marilyn – 2011

Directed by Simon Curtis
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Williams, Judi Dench, Eddie Redmayne, Dominic Cooper, Dougray Scott, Toby Jones, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond
Screenplay by Adrian Hodges based on the books by Colin Clark

When I was in 5th Grade, this kid name Jim Kennedy moved onto my block.  He was unkempt, kind of smelly, and not all that bright, but he was someone to hang around with, so, we became friendly acquaintances.   Invariably, as boys do in 5th Grade, we talked about girls that we liked.  Mostly at that age that’s as far as it goes, but Jim, who was a year older than me, presumably took it a bit farther.  He told me, with all the confidence in the world, that he had acquired and kept a girlfriend the previous summer while on a trip up north in Canada.  I was fascinated and somewhat jealous that someone so obviously sloppy and without any sort of hygiene had gone to the extremes he had.

Jim’s family life was such that within 8 months, he had moved on.  Curiously, in the house next door to Jim, another boy, David Lieske moved in.  He and was nicer, more presentable and cleaner than was Jim, and we became better friends.  Our conversations about girls went to the point where we discovered that we liked the same girl at school.  This was a bummer for me, because as with Jim, I found that the previous summer, David Lieske had spent some vacation time in Canada.  While there, he also had acquired and kept a girlfriend.

It wasn’t until I had gone with my family to Canada that I conceived the idea that perhaps all they had really done is go to Butchart Gardens, The Empress Hotel and perhaps the wax museum.

Watching My Week with Marilyn gives me the same sort of feeling.  Sure, one can conceive that a young Colin Clark may well have served as the 3rd Assistant Director to “Larry” Olivier’s attempt at becoming a movie star.  One even might find believable that he experienced some unique events during that time.  The first part of the film is filled with events like this.  In particular the scenes early in filming when Olivier (played with an easy brilliance by Branagh) and Sybil Thorndike (by the world’s best actress, Dench) find varying ways to pass the time.  Olivier moves from genius to insanity while Thorndike takes time to show everyone how lucky they all are.

Even better, when Monroe (played with forlorn grace by Williams) is messing up in every way possible, Thorndike gently makes herself the one who needs help.  She then convinces Marilyn to help her out by practicing her line readings.  We also get to see wonderful examples of the “communist” side of filmmaking: unions.  There is a scene involving the placement of a prop chair which is amusingly ridiculous.

The film starts to go awry the moment that Clark’s character seemingly catches Monroe’s eye.  As it was, Clark had started a nice romance with the wardrobe girl, played in an accessible and beautiful Emma Watson.  Just when things seem to be heading in the right direction, Monroe’s husband, Arthur Miller heads back to New York to be with his kids.  Or perhaps to be away from Monroe and her drug fueled eccentricities.  Either way, now she has free time on her hands.  Who better to spend this free time than with our young protagonist?

Monroe is played with an appropriate amount of mystery by Williams.  This is intended to give in to viewers desire to see her with an air of intrigue that it is quite possible she lacked in her real life.  Olivier, it  is claimed by his wife, Vivien Leigh, in a moment of candor seemingly common only to our protagonist, lusted after Monroe.  So strong was his ardor that she flew her over to be in this movie.  Her role, in the place of his wife, who had played it countless times on stage.  The name of the film (or play) is really not that important. Like many movies Marilyn was in, it’s not that good.  Ormond’s winsome, but older version of Leigh is played with a wan sadness.  Their marriage, cordial as it is, stands weakly on its last legs.  They won’t make it past an astonishing 20 years.

As Clark, Redmayne is blameless to all the films shortcomings.  He plays it straight, with an proper amount of reverence and astonishment.  After all, it is not he who is making the astonishing claims of a week in the life, intertwined with the most famous woman in the world.  He, along with all the players in the film, play their parts quite believably.  It’s just that, with the tattered legacy of Marilyn Monroe, this tale feels a little too tall to be true.  Even if it were true, a true gentleman would leave her in peace by showing more respect than this.

Much of the last part of the film centers around on Monroe’s obsession with having someone “on her side.”  It makes an all to clear delineation that she wasn’t so wise as to what it meant to have someone on her side.  Redmayne’s Clark is honest with her, up to a point, but eventually he just becomes another sycophant.  She is tired, drugged and a little desperate.  She is not that girlfriend from Canada for me.  Not attractive at all.  Just sadly beautiful.

(*** out of *****)

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2 thoughts on “My Week With Marilyn is good, if you buy the story

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