Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Oscars 2011 — MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

To kick off the blog's Oscar coverage, I thought I'd start with a rather bizarre film.
I call My Week with Marilyn "bizarre" because watching it feels both right and wrong. 

That's because audiences will likely be glued to Michelle Williams' very-nice-try portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, who really needs no introduction. And yet, this is not always for the right reasons: your attention — well, most of it, anyway — will be intensely focused on the accuracy of Williams' portrayal, and you're likely to be overtly critical. This may seem unfair, but it makes sense. The role given to Williams is pretty difficult to pull off perfectly, and there are so many expectations when portraying someone as iconic as Marilyn Monroe. But kudos to Williams for giving it her damnedest. 

The result is almost a social experiment. Watch as your mind will subconsciously try to spot every off detail about Williams' performance — it's hard not to. What's interesting is that this is rather telling of how ingrained Marilyn Monroe is in our heads, and that's probably not going to change any time soon.

Hell, even I did it: I was not alive during Monroe's pinnacle of fame, but I still got the sense that Williams reached the uncanny valley in her performance. Of course, Michelle Williams is not a robot — at least, I think — but the analogy still fits. Her role as Monroe is honestly impressive (I can't think of many other actresses who could come as close) and yet, there's still a lingering feeling of doubt behind it all. 

I'm only 22, but I still have a very distinct impression of what Marilyn Monroe should look and sound like on film. And how could I not? Some Like it Hot is practically a cinema studies anthem at the University of Toronto. I've — we've — seen enough of her candidly that it seems impossible to properly live up to that expectation.

I'll give credit where credit is due. In some ways, Williams is spot on with her portrayal. When she's hamming for the camera as one of three distinctive Monroes (the sex icon, specifically), Williams' natural beauty lends very nicely to Monroe's legendary seduction. But when we see the tattered Marilyn, the broken Marilyn, the hopped-up-(down?)-on-pills Marilyn, Williams can't seem to fully summon the spirit of the damaged dame of the 1950s and 60s. It's very close, though. In fact, it's approaching 99% close, which is enough to make it feel both true to life and also immensely lacking. Go figure. Be prepared to unconsciously judge an actress like you never have before. You won't be able to put your finger on it.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, and Dougray Scott as her then-husband Arthur Miller. Do you buy it? I do...and I also don't.
Regardless of my arbitrary math, it's a performance that will likely see Williams get a Best Actress nomination. Unfortunately, I doubt the same golden nod will be given to any other aspects of the film, which lags from earnest start to Aesopic finish. 

The film, directed by Simon Curtis, begins with a title card insisting that the following is (for the most part) a true story. Okay. Suddenly we're introduced to fresh-faced Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who desperately wants a job in the film industry. He's got gumption, which I appreciate. After plenty of pestering and patience, he manages to get his foot in the door working for Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on his new production, 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl. Lucky guy: Marilyn Monroe and Olivier are the leads. Colin is hired as the go-fer; or, more politely, the "third assistant director." In other words, he's nobody.

I could discuss the details of the film-inside-a-film narrative, but they only serve as a reference point for Marilyn's fragile composure. Move over, Kristen Stewart: Williams' Monroe is queen of the pout. Needless to say, it gets a little tiring to see Marilyn muck up scene after scene while filming the movie, and the frustration she causes on set. She doesn't have much confidence in front of the film camera, and Olivier's classically-trained background causes much impatience when they have to reshoot over and over again. Thankfully, Emma Watson's costume designer Lucy and Judi Dench's Sybil Thorndike serve as a welcome respite from the dull scenes involving the sound stage, or when Marilyn becomes reclusive and near-incapable of cooperating. 

When Marilyn is hemming and hawing over how good she actually as an actress, Colin worms his way out of her periphery and into her life; her fleeting, ephemeral melodrama of a life. The film actually treats Marilyn as if she has the attention span of a goldfish, which comes across more as ditzy than troubled. Nice try, though.

So, Colin consoles her when she's down. It starts innocently enough, but Marilyn begins calling exclusively for Colin on set, giving him a sense of swagger as he's suddenly the only person at Pinewood Studios who can reason with her. And yes, they spend days together. Seven, in fact. There are seven days in a week. The film is titled My Week with Marilyn. They spend a week together, and it gets sexual. Tee hee. Cue Colin's first crush Lucy noticing the chemistry; cue Colin's puppy love infatuation with Marilyn; cue lesson learned the hard way.

When you look at the film as a whole, it becomes apparent that this is another attempt by Harvey Weinstein at stealing Oscar's heart. For the most part, it misses the mark in terms of intention and, well, relevancy. The film feels like it was made entirely for an award of some kind, which it may in fact end up receiving. I'm not entirely sure why this film exists, but Williams gives it her all, and the star-studded cast could easily deliver one of the best goddamn productions of a Shakespeare play you've ever seen. Sadly, the film's tedious pacing is just too overwhelming for the movie to have any sort of long-lasting impact. 

(2/4)

This article is from a series in my ongoing attempt to cover the 2011 Oscars. If you liked it, please consider donating to my Cannes 2012 fund. It would mean the world to me.



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