Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: My Week with Marilyn

When an actor receives critical acclaim for portraying a public figure in a biopic or film based upon true events, I wonder if such praise is really warranted as a number of questions spring to mind.  Should that performance be considered acting or impersonation?  Is there a difference between the two and/or should there be a distinction?  For instance, Jay Pharoah does amazing impersonations of Will Smith and Denzel Washington, but is that great acting?  The guy can barely get airtime on SNL let alone an Academy Award nomination.  So with all due respect to Will Smith in Ali, Jamie Foxx in Ray, and Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn, to me such performances are a step down from those that require creating and inventing a character from the bare bones of a script.

Don’t get me wrong.  Michelle Williams is good in My Week with Marilyn.  She does an interesting job portraying a toxic mix of narcissism, neuroticism, and probably a bunch of other –isms that I am not learned enough to expound upon.  The film itself is built around a strong cast, who like Williams, expertly walk the tightrope that is the delicate balance between the immense self-importance and incredible insecurity that run rampart throughout the thespian community.  And that is really what the movie is about – the illusion and the fragility embodied by Marilyn Monroe as seen though the eyes of Eddie Redmayne’s Colin Clark.

Clark is a young man from wealth determined to make his own way in the movie industry and scores a gig as an assistant on Olivier’s production of The Prince and the Showgirl.  While on set, he forges a short-term relationship with Marilyn Monroe.  It’s a slice of life film about a week in the life of a love struck young man caught up in the crossroads of “Olivier wanting to be a great movie star and Monroe wanting to be a great actress.”  Nothing runs deep in this movie, but that is how it is meant to be- considering the major players in the film and the waters within which they wade.

What makes this film go is the cast.  As I mentioned before, Michelle Williams is good as Monroe, capturing a bit of what made the tragic figure so captivating to the public eye.  Redmayne as Colin Clark is affable and enough of an unknown to sell the youth and naiveté that defines the protagonist.  For Kenneth Branagh, it is in no way his strongest performance, but he portrays a weaker side to Sir Laurence Olivier that rarely was shown in public.  While Julia Ormond, Judi Dench, and Emma Watson are strong in limited screen time as female contrasts to all that is Williams’ Monroe. 

This movie is definitely not for everyone.  It is a film where things happened over a short period of time and when that time has passed, everyone moves on.  This brand of slice-of-life storytelling does not appeal to the traditional movie viewer who has been conditioned to have a certain set of expectations.  Likewise, I found myself oscillating throughout the film between being utterly engaged and completely bored.  Like me, you may find that after watching this movie, you won’t find yourself loving or loathing it.  As for whether you will feel entertained – well to borrow a sports-book term, this one is a Pick ‘Em.

Standout Performance: Judi Dench is strong as Dame Sybil Thorndike.  Her character has depth and complexity that underlies her outwardly courteous and respectful demeanor.


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