Review: A movie about Marilyn – and so much more |

Review: A movie about Marilyn – and so much more

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy The Weinstein CompanyMichelle Williams stars in "My Week with Marilyn," showing Friday and Sunday at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House.

“My Week with Marilyn” is about the making of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” a 1957 film that brought together Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier, who starred in and directed and produced the film. The earlier movie, a romantic comedy set in early 20th century Britain, was not especially well-received on its release, and the later film joins in the put-downs: Kenneth Branagh, playing Olivier, refers to “The Prince and the Showgirl” as “the lightest of comedies,” and he does not mean it as a compliment. And that is while the film is still being shot.

“My Week with Marilyn,” directed by Simon Curtis and starring Michelle Williams as Monroe, edges toward comedy. There is a breeziness to its pace, it seems intent on entertaining an audience, and especially in Branagh’s excellent performance, a refreshing lack of self-seriousness. The film is part biography – based on the diary “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me,” by Colin Clark, who was a third assistant on the movie – and part drama, with an emphasis on the strained relations between Monroe and Olivier, but it never loses a comedic touch.

But the lightest of comedies it is not. It is impossible to tell the story of Marilyn Monroe – any story of Marilyn Monroe – without getting into drama, even tragedy. The Monroe of “My Week with Marilyn” is everything the legend tells us and more: gorgeous, girlishly foolish, a unique mix of innocent and master manipulator, utterly irresistible, larger than life but not emotionally big enough to handle it. And powerless to prevent those traits from becoming a toxic mix of confusions and contradictions.

Plus director Curtis is determined to use the complexity of Monroe, and the broader topics of celebrity and the movie business, to open up big issues. Monroe may have sucked up all the oxygen in any room she entered, but even with Williams in her routinely magnificent form here – she never stoops to caricature – Monroe doesn’t overwhelm this film. “My Week with Marilyn” gives plenty of room to Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who has his own mix of conflicting traits: naive, privileged, completely thrown off-kilter by the attention Monroe lavishes on him. Branagh is wonderful as Olivier, who has a full-bodied relationship with Monroe: He’s floored by her raw talent, angered by her lack of professionalism, mystified by his own helpless attraction to her.

These relationships are spun into a well-meaning reflection on innocence, stardom, insecurity and above all, the inescapable fact that becoming experienced means going through experiences, most of them difficult. Curtis can relate: in his debut as a feature film director, he has some difficulties managing all his aims. Most obvious is the handling of Judi Dench as the actress Dame Sybil Thorndike: She has a strong appearance early in the film; when she returns many scenes later, I had forgotten she was part of the story. Olivier, too, could have used more screen time.

Still, “My Week with Marilyn” satisfies. It doesn’t have grandiose ambitions, but it delivers on a smaller scale. We get the sensation of what it must have been like to be Monroe’s confidant (if only for a week), what it must have been like for that week to come to an end, how frustrating it might have been for the exquisitely trained Olivier to realize that he’ll never have the magnetism that is innate in Monroe. And we get the tragedy that was Monroe.

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