Monday, November 28, 2011
a weak week with marilyn
In the summer of 1956, 23-year old Colin Clark (freckly, fresh-faced Eddie Redmayne) worked as an assistant on the tumultuous set of Laurence Oliver's (Kenneth Branagh) picture The Prince and the Showgirl (the title of which ends up being fitting for Clark's story). While everyone else coddled and berated its star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) for her tardiness and inconsistency, Clark developed a unique friendship with her and briefly won her affection.
If only My Week With Marilyn was as bold and interesting as its leading performance and its subject matter. The script, penned by Adrian Hodges (who wrote Tom & Viv, another uneven biopic), sledgehammers too much and goes for gooey first love tropes (Clark is repeatedly warned by stern men not to get too involved). We are informed of the plot before the opening credits and are treated to banal narration within the bookends. Ominous, loud flashbulbs appear relentlessly, as they do in most generic movies about movie stars. The dialogue is simply not comedic enough for the froth fest it aspires to be. Perhaps mirroring Monroe in distress, the score, by Conrad Pope, behaves like the film--often ill-fitting and awkward, going from peppy and jazzy to tony and serious. Because much isn't cooked up overall, the scenes backed by Nat King Cole tunes feel as dramatically listless as perfume ads.
Director Simon Curtis, a Masterpiece Theater vet, assembles a strong, familiar British cast (Branagh, Judi Dench, and young Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame among them). Appropriately, Williams is the odd girl out. Few young actors of recent cinema have been able to display fragility and vulnerability as well as her. In Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine, her characters wallow and fret over their men until they reach breaking points. What works here is that Williams is an actress playing a risky part of an actress playing a risky part. What doesn't work is the film around her. Perhaps Clark is too flat, too smitten and too innocent (his slight, 23-year old musings feel like those of a 16-year old) to be the film's protagonist. The film is simply a flavorless, Harvey Weinstein bon bon when Monroe isn't around. Watson, as a movie costume gal with a crush on Clark, endures a throwaway part. A few of the supporting cast have their moments though. It's fun to watche Branagh quote Shakespeare, even if his film performances, as it is here, are often too broad. And Dench does what she does best in a minuscule role as Sybil Thorndike. Julia Ormond's Vivien Leigh, who played Monroe's part onstage to great acclaim, talks incessantly about aging and in one oddly placed scene, rails against and praises Monroe in a fit of jealousy. Mostly tedious, the movie comes to life in its rare, darkly funny moments: Monroe opens a Windsor Castle doll house, stares longingly at the figures, and remarks, "There's me, there's you and there's our child." **
A photo with her then husband, Arthur Miller, from the Parkside House in the year the film was set.
And some writing from Monroe, which can be found in the book Fragments.
my love sleeps besides me--
in the faint light--I see his manly jaw
give way--and the mouth of his
with a softness softer
its sensitiveness trembling
his eyes must have look out
wonderously from the cave of the little
boy--when the things he did not understand--
but will he look like this when he is dead
oh unbearable fact inevitable
yet sooner would I rather his love die