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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Week with Marilyn (Limited Release Date: 11-23-2011)

        One of the oldest, most trusted cliches in all of Oscar-dom goes a little something like this: Portray a real-life icon, and you might just be headed up to the podium. In the last decade alone, this game plan has worked out for Cate Blanchett (The Aviator), Jamie Foxx (Ray), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and Reece Witherspoon (Walk the Line), and has lead countless others to a nomination. This year has already produced one attempt to snag a statue by stepping in for a legend of the past, and will also see a cinematic Freud and Margaret Thatcher before 2011 has come to a close. Today, we address possibly the most blatant Oscar-bait to come our way this season, the Marilyn Monroe/Lawrence Olivier saga, My Week with Marilyn.

        Despite the presence of these two towering figures, it's actually a young man named Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) who serves as the film's protagonist. Wanting nothing more than to break into the world of film, Colin travels over to Britain, where he is hired on as a third assistant in the production of Olivier's newest film. Soon, the star of the picture, the glamourous Marilyn Monroe herself (Michelle Williams), arrives on set, but her various antics and unsightly methods drive Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) up the wall. Feeling ostracized by the demanding film crew, Marilyn takes solace in young Colin, the two forming a sexually-charged bond despite everyone near them urging Clark to keep his distance.

        There are only two real reasons for this film to exist, so I'd might as well address them first. Both Williams and Branagh are good in their roles, and that's right around where my praise for them has to end. Sure, Williams has Monroe's bodily movements and whispery voice down pat, and Branagh has fun with Olivier's signature, half-tempo over-enunciation, but you never once forget that you're watching performances, neither actor ever disappearing into their role. Williams is particularly reminiscent of Cate Blanchett's aforementioned performance as Katherine Hepburn; a mesmerizing impression, but a skin-deep incarnation, no less. 

        There are plenty of reasons not to like Marilyn. Besides the two fairly underwhelming performances discussed above, the film's lead character is neither interesting nor particularly likable, and the movie's depiction of other icons of the time are continuously mishandled, as is the ending. However, like standing in Monroe's presence during another of her pill-fueled self-pity-parties, there's something about this film that draws you in and stirs interest even when you know it's all fraudulent. Perhaps its the production value, which includes great locations, lovely lensing, and brisk and zippy editing. But more than that, the movie's greatest success is in giving you a sense of what it might have been like to fall in love with such a larger-than-life person, even if it's only a vague sense. It's a small accomplishment in the middle of a considerable mess, but it deserves to be noticed.

Grade: C-

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