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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN -- DVD review by porfle



If you aren't that familiar with the real Marilyn Monroe, you'll undoubtedly learn a little more about her from MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011).  But if you are, you probably  won't recognize her in the inexplicably miscast Michelle Williams.  That glaring bone of contention aside, however, it's a pretty good movie.

Based on the true diaries of Colin Clark, the story begins with the upper-class young film fan getting a menial third-assistant-director job with Laurence Olivier's production company just as American movie idol Marilyn Monroe is arriving in England to star with Sir Larry in 1957's THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL.  While the emotionally unstable Marilyn drives Olivier up a wall with her quirky Method acting and unreliability, a star-dazzled Colin finds himself being adopted by her as an intimate friend to whom she can let down her guard and reveal her true self.

Amidst some nicely-rendered period trappings and atmosphere--and an occasional low-budget look, especially in the meager crowd scenes--the film starts out with the tone of a mildly amusing light comedy but gradually reveals its serious nature as we realize the toll that superstardom is taking on vulnerable Marilyn.  But while managing to convey the actress' endearing little-girl-lost quality to a certain degree, Williams also makes her appear sweetly retarded, especially in her ditzy on-set behavior during shooting. 

What's worse, Williams looks nothing like Monroe and is unable to convincingly mimic any of her body movements or facial expressions.  Her performance itself is fine--if she were playing a fictional character I'd have no complaints--but in this particular role, her casting is a puzzlement.  It's like getting Kirsten Dunst to play Mae West.  And with the winsome Emma Watson portraying a studio employee who catches Colin's eye before Marilyn enters his life, we have the odd situation of a lowly costume girl being cuter and sexier than the big MM.

However, none of this prevents Williams from doing her best with the well-written script and managing to give us a character we can sympathize with.  Her scenes alone with Eddie Redmayne's lovestruck Colin are a bittersweet peek at the everyday girl Marilyn yearned to be, with hints of a loveless childhood that caused her to seek love and acceptance wherever she could find it.  Their outing together at Windsor Castle contains a key scene in which, confronted by an admiring kitchen staff, she turns on her "Marilyn" character for them just as she might adopt any other fictional pose. 

As the story grows more substantial, other characters gain a depth that's only hinted at earlier on.  Colin's bright-eyed neophyte becomes more three-dimensional as Marilyn's dependence on him as a friend makes him rise to the challenge of being one.  Kenneth Branagh has a field day playing old-school thespian Olivier's frustration with his leading lady, eventually revealing his own fears of inadequacy as a film actor in comparison to the young actress' natural affinity for the camera. 

Julia Ormond plays Olivia's wife Vivien Leigh, the aging GONE WITH THE WIND ingenue who sees Marilyn as a sign that her own time is passing.  Judi Dench, best-known these days as 007's boss, is Dame Sybil Thorndike, an old acting crony of Olivier who takes the insecure Marilyn under her wing.  Paula Strasberg, Marilyn's acting coach and all-around enabler to her unconventional behavior, is played by ZoĆ« Wanamaker, while Dougray Scott is well cast as playwright Arthur Miller in scenes that depict Marilyn's doomed third marriage.  Derek Jacobi (I, CLAUDIUS) appears in a cameo.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Anchor Bay and the Weinsteins is in 2.35:1 widescreen with 5.1 DTSHD-MA (Blu-Ray) and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (DVD).  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a commentary with director Simon Curtis and the featurette, "The Untold Story of an American Icon."

In a movie about acting, we the viewers are asked to do a little acting ourselves in accepting this image of Marilyn as being as charming and irresistible as the characters in the film keep saying she is.  If you can do that, then MY WEEK WITH MARILYN succeeds as the touching love story of two wildly diverse people and their brief bond of mutual empathy.


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