Friday, January 6, 2012

My Week with Marilyn

The Battle of Mrs. Miller ("Whose Side Are You On?")
"What Becomes a Legend Most?"

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on" says Prospero in "The Tempest."  Prospero and Shakespeare run through My Week with Marilyn (the latest confection of young love and fictionalized reality—with appearance by Judi Dench—from the Weinstein Company) like Caliban, a spirit of confused form and intent in Shakespeare's play.  All the revelers in Simon Curtis' film (written—especially well by Adrian Hodges) are real, based on real individuals and events, but how true they are to the source is questionable, given as they are to interpretation and expectations, and to the dreams of the particpants, for whom the movies and fame is a business, an art, as well as personal obsessions.

None more so than Norma Jeane Baker, who inhabited our world and our dreams as Marilyn Monroe, a free spirit trapped in prison bars formed of klieg lights, a vessel that men poured their love and lust onto and women their princess dreams of being the most popular girl in the world.  Heavy, heavy burden, that, and she bore it from the lowliest, sleeziest agent in Hollywood to Kings of the Sports World and Men of Letters.  She also bore it from other film stars, who looked at her fame and wanted a piece of it (and maybe her, as well), including Sir Laurence Olivier, who insisted on casting Marilyn in his production of The Prince and the Showgirl, a trifling movie if ever there was one, despite being written by Terence Rattigan

What Marilyn saw in doing the movie was obvious; she was working with the world's greatest Shakespearean actor and director on a film written by an acknowledged writer.  Why Olivier wanted to do this is less so: financial success for his unbarded film; name recognition to draw the crowds for a film out of his metier; maybe he just wanted Marilyn, as so many men did, and the new bride of American playwright Arthur Miller (not the best looking guy in the world) might have provided a world to conquer for the actor who played so much ambitious Shakespearean royalty.  Whatever the reason, Olivier was constantly frustrated with the fragile, neurotic actress, who had other concerns besides working with the exacting director—it was the only film she made outside of her protective home studio, 20th Century Fox, the only film she made outside of the United States, and the first film of her fledgling production company—all unique concerns that might have distracted the actress, on top of her new marriage to Miller and a hushed-up pregnancy during filming that resulted in a miscarriage.

The film that Hodges and Curtis have crafted from the events and a tell-all written about it by filmmaker Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne), is one of the better ones to be made of this type.  Casting has a lot to do with it.  Michelle Williams is not the first person I would picture as Norma Jean, but the versatile actress manages to capture the presence of the human being at the core of the star and suggest the winsomeness that charmed so many in her orbit.   Kenneth Branagh has been linked with Olivier for most of his career, paralleling the legendary thesp by making his own film directing debut with a gritty, strapping version of Olivier's own first directorial effort of Henry V.  His portrayal of Olivier might seem too easy, but there was nothing about the man that was 'easy," and Branagh has a fine time, mixing Olivier voices, accents, and mercurial swings throughout the film—his Olivier is never consistent in mood, manner or method, just as you'd expect a Master Thespian to be (he maximizes the precision of great lines like "Teaching Miss Monroe to ACT is like trying to teach URDU to a BADGER!").  Rounding out the cast are such fine performers as Toby Jones (hilariously indecent as Marilyn's publicist and future Planet of the Apes producer Arthur P. Jacobs), Dench—playing a woman she once acted with, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller, and Weinstein go-to girl Julia Ormond as Olivier wife-partner, Vivien Leigh, as well as turns by ZoĆ« Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi, Emma Watson, and one of my favorites, Michael Kitchen.  Redmayne is fine and callow, as he's supposed to be, eyes always a little bit wide at a new turn of events in the film business, and a tentative, crooked half-smile his constant fall-back.

The script is full of great zingers about fame, fortune, the madness of the movie business, and how hard people work to make things look effortless (and on-time), as well as loads of gossipy references for "the blue-hairs."  It also has a nice undercurrent that touches on fantasy and reality—hence the Prospero—and the process by which reality and the illusion of reality can really mess us up...if we believe our own "press."  Sometimes the illusion of reality is nothing more than fantasy—the very stuff that dreams are made on.  And the makers of fantasy are just as susceptible as the rest of us—maybe even more.  My Week with Marilyn brings to the imagination such thoughts, beyond just being a tale of the Myth of Marilyn. 

She did exist in reality.  And her reality had little to do with her fantasy.  The camera loved her.  And that's what killed her. 

My Week with Marilyn is a Full-Price Ticket. the wind.

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