Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Week With Marilyn

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

My Week With Marilyn (Weinstein Co, directed by Simon Curtis, screenplay by Adrian Hodges based on the books by Colin Clark) was probably intended to be better than it turned out to be and will probably still get Michelle Williams a Best Actress in a Leading Role nomination and _possible win_ at the Oscars this year and perhaps earn a few other nominations (for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay).  It's worth seeing, even in the movie theaters.  The movie is more than "just another Marilyn movie."  It's just, eh ..., I do believe that it could have been better.  On the other hand, even the surprisingly mediocre vibe that the movie evokes, may have been _intended_.  Because it's fundamental theme appeared to be about "limtations."

The movie was built around Colin Clark's (played by Eddie Redmayne) experience in the late 1950s of working as a relatively minor production assistant to legendary stage actor (Sir) Lawrence Olivier (played by Kenneth Branah) who was not only seeking to make his permanent his mark as a screen actor but also trying to make an inroad into directing.  In order to make a splash as a director, Lawrence Olivier had hired the already by then world-renowned American screen goddess, Marilyn Monroe (played in the current movie by Michelle Williams) to co-star with him in a movie called The Prince and the Showgirl [1957].  Of course things wouldn't turn out as Sir Lawrence Olivier had hoped.  And this then makes the stuff of the movie.

What didn't turn out?  Well Sir Lawrence Olivier was a _great_ stage actor who turned out to be a really good/great screen actor.  But a director?  Then Marilyn Monroe was above all a _really good looking_ actress who also did have some innate ability of presenting herself really, really well to an audience.  But was she a _great_ actress?  Then there were others around the two.  Lawrence Olivier's wife Vivian Leigh (played by Julie Ormand) the legendary star of Gone With The Wind [1938] and Streetcar Named Desire [1951] becomes something of a jealous basket-case around the younger and if nothing else uber-sexy Marilyn who Vivian's husband Olivier had cast for _his_ movie.  And Marilyn's husband (#3), the legendary playwright Arthur Miller (played by Dougray Scott) was learning what it's like to be married a very sexy but also tremendously insecure Marilyn Monroe.

So if the recent film J. Edgar (about the life of U.S. FBI founding director J. Edgar Hoover) appeared ultimately to be a character study about power and the kind of pressures/circumstances/upbringing that could drive a person to crave it, My Week With Marilyn appears to be a character study about insecurity and dealing with/accepting limitations.

Lawrence Olivier in particular was shocked to find that Marilyn Monroe really did travel with an entourage, including personal acting coach Paula Stasberg (played by Zoe Wanamaker) and personal agent/handler Milton Greene (played by Dominic Cooper).  Olivier great naturally gifted stage actor that he was (and insecure about his attempt to be a director), simply didn't understand why Monroe would need a personal acting coach.  Why can't Marilyn just read (and _make her own_) the lines off the page?  Well, Marilyn _could not_.  And besides, Marilyn was finding success (and perhaps the _only_ way she could find success as an actress) using the then _new_ Method Acting approach becoming popular in the United States.

And so it goes.  Marilyn, popular sex bomb and reasonably good actress that she was, was a basket case.  Sir Lawrence Olivier was finding his own limitations.  All the younger to middle-aged women around the set didn't know what to make of Marilyn and felt threatened by her.  These included, above mentioned Vivian Leigh, but also young seamstress Lucy (played by Emma Watson) from the wardrobe department, who in other circumstances would have made a natural friend/girl friend to Colin Clarke telling the story.   And the older/wiser men in Marilyn's life, notably husband Arthur Miller and boss Olivier, didn't really know how to manage things either.  On set, the only ones who seem to do well with her are some of the older women including her above mentioned acting coach and older actress Sybil Thorndike (played admirably by Judy Dench) And yet, off-set, the people just loved her.  Fascinating.

I found the movie fascinating because in my surprisingly not altogether different line of work (being a public figure, and most notably preaching) some of the pressures that Marilyn and the other "famous" people in the film faced felt surprisingly familiar.  All of us preachers/priests too have our "fans."  All of us definitely have our limitations.  How does one navigate them _even in the small arena_ of a parish (or perhaps a blog)? ;-).  I felt a lot of pity for Marilyn (or my generation's equivalent who also met a tragic end, Michael Jackson).  The pressures, shown actually quite well in this film, _must have been awful_.

Parents, the movie is appropriately rated R.  It is, after all, about Marilyn Monroe.  There is some fleeting back-side nudity and there are occasional references to off-screen sexual activity (both adulterous and non).  But above all, I don't think that a child or teenager would really understand the movie anyway.  So parents keep the kids at home and see the movie on a "date night."  It really is quite good, even though I do feel that it could have been better.

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