Michelle Williams is fast becoming one of the most exciting actresses working today. It was unfair that she didn’t win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Brokeback Mountain, and it was a small travesty that she lost out to Natalie Portman this year in the Best Actress category. Never mind – 2012 will surely bring another nomination for her, taking into account her mesmerising performance as that superstar of cinema – Marilyn Monroe.
This new film is set during the production of The Prince and the Showgirl, in which Monroe worked side by side with the actor/director Laurence Olivier, and struck up a brief, touching relationship with a posh young man (named Colin Clarke, on whose memoir the movie is loosely based), passionate about the cinema and awestruck by the actress, who has talked his way into a job on the film set. Monroe’s marriage with the playwright Arthur Miller was at this time showing massive strain, and the arguments between her and Olivier on set were frequent and bitter.
My Week With Marilyn, in my opinion, succeeds on two fronts. The first is the acting, which is exceptional to say the least. Kenneth Branagh may not have been the most obvious choice to play Sir Laurence, but as always, he gives a wonderful performance. Giving support are an all star cast, which is perfectly apt for a film about the movies – Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Michael Kitchen, Dominic Cooper, Emma Watson, Dougray Scott, Zoe Wanamaker and Toby Stephens are but a few I could mention.
The second, and perhaps the more vital, is how well the character of Monroe is captured on the screen. A great deal of this, undoubtedly, is due to Williams’ performance. Seemingly without effort, she captures the dangerously impulsive, fickle, flirtatious and witty side of Monroe’s character while giving equal weight to her painful insecurity and lack of self confidence. Marilyn is presented as an incredibly intelligent, but horribly flawed and damaged character. The greatest feat that the film achieves is that although it strips away the shining façade that Monroe projected onto the silver screen, it does not take it away from her. Marilyn Monroe was, and still is, something of a mystery – and this movie, whilst delving into her character at great depth, still retains that.
However, despite the potentially golden opportunity presented to the filmmakers in terms of source material and story, the product as a whole is curiously trite and conventional. At its heart, it is the standard male coming of age tale (although, I have to say – what a way to come of age!). Still, despite the many great qualities that the film has, it also suffers from a clichéd (and sometimes even cheesy) screenplay, a superfluous voice-over narration and one or two shamefully contrived sequences.
That is a shame, because I do like this movie. Even taking its flaws into account, it is a fundamentally intriguing, entertaining piece of cinema, elegantly shot and beautifully acted. There have been better movies made this year. There have also been far worse, and the performances in this, I’m certain, could sit comfortably alongside the best pieces of acting we’ve seen in 2011. It is no masterpiece, but I can still recommend it with a clean conscience.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, James Martin (December ’11)