Last Friday I mentioned that there weren’t many brand new movies opening in theaters (there will be from this week onwards in the run up ‘til Christmas). The one movie that did open has been generating plenty of controversy – Shame – and I’m less than inclined to catch it even though its star, Michael Fassbender, is getting lots of attention.
If you ask me, there is a sensational film in theaters that everyone ought to be talking about right now. A splendid English movie that’s got zero special effects, no murders, nary a disemboweling, precious little torture, a total absence of gratuitous sex, and not a serial killing in sight. Oh wait, that’s why no one’s talking about it. But they will be, in a month, when everyone wants the scoop on the Oscars.
Then? They’ll be talking plenty about My Week With Marilyn. Mark my words.
The movie stars Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, and it’s set in 1956, when she traveled to London to make a movie with famed British actor Sir Laurence Olivier. Here, Monroe becomes overwhelmed by all the professional British “thespians” and their very traditional approach to making movies. The Brits are every bit as enamored by her sheer star power as they are frustrated by her uniquely “American” anxieties, neuroses, and need to be coddled. It’s all kind of a disaster. So, during what turns out to be an extremely traumatic movie shoot she reaches out to a young man who’s little more than a stagehand, and decides that he’s the one for her (despite the fact that she’s married to uber-famous American playwright Arthur Miller). The movie is told from the point of view of said stagehand (hence the title My Week With Marilyn) and it’s a completely engrossing tale of American celebrity and its impact upon the rest of the world. For indeed, there was no one quite like Marilyn and she existed in an era when people could worship/adore stars without being able to access them on the internet; the mystery that surrounds her is exactly that, and it added to her enormous mystique (as did her early death, which is something you cannot stop thinking about when you watch this film.)
Without exception, all the actors in My Week With Marilyn are superb. Michelle Williams is of course the one getting singled out big time, and understandably so; hers is an astonishing portrayal of Marilyn and part of her appeal lies in how little she appears to do. It’s a profoundly subtle performance, marked by tiny details, nuanced gestures and a whole less-is-more thing that genuinely works. Each tic, sigh and quivering/bitten lip conveys just what a strange and troubled young lady she must have been. Williams will absolutely be one of the big names bandied about come awards time, and any and all kudos that come her way are more than deserved. Kenneth Branagh also stars,and he’s one of the UK’s most impressive and important actors (he’s that guy who brought Shakespeare to millions and millions of Americans via movies like Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, giving The Bard a very understandable, decipherable and human face. And presumably getting lots of young people hooked on 16th century drama.) Branagh genuinely shines as Sir Laurence Olivier – England’s most well-known movie star, and a man struggling with the concept of “modern” celebrity. Olivier was clearly a very big deal, but his fame was nothing compared to what happened when Marilyn Monroe hit the scene, and this film closely examines old school celebrity vs. modern stardom (which Monroe did so much to exemplify). Dame Judi Dench is also superb. Most riveting is young English actor Eddie Redmayne as the movies’ protagonist – upon whom Marilyn sets her sights. Redmayne’s Colin is a nice young man who wants desperately to be in the movie business – he’s bowled over by American cinema and jumps into it blind. He becomes a gopher at Olivier’s (and subsequently Marilyn’s) beck and call. The rest is of course history, but My Life With Marilyn’s a take on history you absolutely should not miss.
1) Marilyn Monroe
2) James Dean
3) Princess Diana
4) Jim Morrison