Sunday, April 8, 2012

Day 354 - My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn (2011) directed by Simon Curtis

If there is any one person who exemplifies the pressures of fame it would have to be Marilyn Monroe. She was perhaps the most famous woman in the world, practically a goddess to many, but deep down inside she shared the same insecurities and vulnerabilities as the rest of the world. It sounds cliche to say but celebrities are people too. My Week with Marilyn captures a brief moment in the troubled star's life told from the perspective of Colin Clark, a young assistant director during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).

The film centers around Monroe but is actually Colin's story. In a way this is the best way to understand Monroe because we can never really know what she was thinking or how she felt. Here was a woman who was so well known yet remained a mystery to even those who knew her best. We can only know how she affected the people around her and how the world perceived her. The film begins with Colin, an eager youth who talks his way onto the set of The Prince and the Showgirl as an assistant to Laurence Olivier. (How it must have been to be working underneath one of the most revered actors of all time and the biggest icon of the time both at once.) In walks Monroe and heads turn and hearts drop. Even the mighty Olivier is mesmerized. The film is all about Monroe but also about how others responded to her.

But immediately we can see she is not perfect. She has the finicky nature of a movie star where everything must be just right, but she also has the insecurities of a normal young woman. She is afraid of not being good enough, afraid of being alone, perhaps afraid of herself. On the set, she is a nervous wreck, forgetting lines and missing her marks. Soon enough Olivier's admiration of her turns into angry frustration, writing her off as another typical spoiled Hollywood starlet. In the background is the lowly assistant Colin who observes everything. He sees Monroe's great beauty and talents but also her fragile nature.

Eventually Monroe notices Colin and befriends him. The film, and Colin himself, doesn't really say why she takes an interest in basically a nobody, but perhaps it is precisely because he is a nobody. In one scene she admits to him that everybody wants to be with Marilyn Monroe but once they realize that she is not her, they all run away. Naturally Colin assures her that he would never run away. As he gets to know Marilyn, Colin grows to admire and love her but this is not a romance or even an account of an affair. (There is no sexual relationship implied in the film.) After all, how do you hold onto a star without being burned? How could a goddess love a mere mortal? This film simply captures a moment in Colin's life when he once spent time with and even kissed the most famous woman in the world. Clearly these precious few days meant the world to Colin, but did they mean anything to her? Not even he can really know. That is basically the entirety of the film. Eventually they finish shooting the movie and Marilyn is gone, though memories of her stay with Colin forever.

Obviously the film starts and ends with Michelle Williams who basically makes the movie. The film wouldn't work without a compelling and believable Marilyn. She looks pretty close to the real deal and captures Marilyn Monroe's look and feel pretty well. The way she smiles, the way she pouts, the way she poses and even her raspy voice is pretty spot on. Sometimes I forgot I was watching a performance and not the real thing. The film has plenty of strong performances to match up with Williams. Kenneth Branagh plays Laurence Olivier well and Judi Dench, who plays Sybil Thorndike, is always good. Interestingly the character of Colin, played by Eddie Redmayne, is perhaps the weakest though perhaps that was done intentionally to contrast him with Marilyn.

I'm sure there's been dozens of Marilyn Monroe movies but at least this one is unique in that she isn't really the central character. Instead the story is told from an onlooker's perspective which is really the only way to really talk about her since even those closest to her didn't know her completely. The film provides a brief glimpse of her life and like Colin, we're left wanting more. Unfortunately that would be the story of her life as she died at just 36 years old.

Grade: B

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