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Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 10:00 pm

Stars shine in My Week with Marilyn

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Michelle Williams stars as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn.

Marilyn Monroe’s personal troubles have been well documented. Plagued by self-doubt, constantly in search of love, in hindsight the actress’s tragic early death was seemingly inevitable, what with the lack of support she received as well as the toxic environment she found herself in. One of her more tumultuous years was 1956. She had just married playwright Arthur Miller, a union that they both soon realized was a mistake, and she set up her own production company so that she might have more control over her career. The first film she oversaw was The Prince and the Showgirl, a comedic farce that she hoped would not only line her pockets (she was to get 75 percent of any box office profits) but also gain her a new measure of respect, as her co-star was Sir Laurence Olivier, the greatest actor of his generation. Making the film was difficult and the end product was far from what Monroe had envisioned.

Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn offers up a unique perspective on this period of Monroe’s life. It is told from the point of view of Colin Clark, an eager assistant employed by Olivier who was charged with helping Monroe and keeping an eye on her. The two books he wrote about this experience are the foundation of this film, which provides an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at the clash between these two giants, one who strode the stage with a command rarely seen, and the other, a pop culture sensation who could never escape the cloud of fame that would eventually engulf her.

As director of the film, Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) had his share of troubles from the start. Monroe was constantly late to the set. She took advice from her acting coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wannamaker), over his own advice and required numerous takes to get the simplest thing right on camera. Monroe (Michele Williams) was a trial for all concerned and she knew it. She confides her fears to Clark (Eddie Redmayne) not long after he’s been charged to watch over her and before he falls for her charms. While the actress professes to reveal her true self to the young man, it soon becomes apparent she has no idea who she really is anymore and that her tenuous emotional state will ruin anyone who enters her orbit.

Curtis keeps the film moving at a crisp pace and the story proves to be a film buff’s dream. However, the best elements are the performances by the two leads. Williams avoids the trap of imitating Monroe and instead creates her from the ground up, ably reproducing the sex symbol image we associate with her but also the private side we’ve only had glimpses of. The actress presents the icon as a child at sea when she’s away from the spotlight and these provide the film with its most affecting moments. Williams pulls out all the stops and it pays off handsomely, as does Branagh’s effort as he captures Olivier’s intensity, rage and ultimately his gratitude towards Monroe’s finished performance. While The Prince and the Showgirl did not live up to expectations, My Week with Marilyn exceeds them, thanks to its principals’ captivating work.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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