November 21, 2011


I grew up in the 1960s and 70s and there were three stars I never wanted to hear anything else about--Elvis Presley, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Sure, all were talented. But the cult status that their early deaths brought them bored me even as a child. Jaded at ten! While the Elvis and James Dean manias died down, continual revelations about Marilyn's connections with the Rat Pack and John F. Kennedy renewed the blonde bombed bombshell's fame every few years. Sure she was gorgeous and the epitome of the silver screen's sex siren, but at one some point it just became overkill.

Well, it's been quite a few years since my initial impression of Miss Monroe, so I was eager to see My Week With Marilyn. The charming, bittersweet story doesn't disappoint. If anything, it should revive the fever surrounding her and I think that even my jaded ass has even caught some of it it! Now older, it's easier for me to identify with an irresistible platinum temptress overloaded with star quality, beating the men off with a stick in between drug and alcohol abuse-basically she and I have the same story except that I haven't kicked the bucket yet. KIDDING!

Of course, one problem lay in how to cast someone as alluring as the most alluring film star in history? Michele Williams is not as stunning, but her profile really suggest Marilyn's. The hair was often a little too small to complete the illusion, and for some reason the make-up team went light on the false eyelashes. Perhaps this was accurate for her in that period, but the classic Marilyn look was a lash, upswept liner and a heavy-lidded, I'm-so-drugged-out-you-could-probably-fuck-me-and-I-wouldn't-even-know-it effect. Thankfully, the costume designer was very true to period so Michelle was always corseted in skin-tight dresses and she even had a little suggestion of a tummy as did the voluptuous original model.

And Miss Williams makes up for her merely decent physical resemblance by exuding Marilyn's personality. Michele's a fine actress who captures all of the star's moods, from needy and insecure about acting opposite the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier to the coquettish yet manipulative diva to the tempestuous substance abuser escaping from the stresses known only by most famous woman in the world. In one particularly enjoyable scene on a day off from the set, Marilyn asks her escort "Shall I be her?" and instantly turns on the signature charms that endeared her to the world until everyone present is in awe of her magic. From crass Hollywood public relations men to Marilyn's fawning acting coach Paula Strasberg, we catch a glimpse of the machine it takes to make a one-woman industry of that magnitude tick.

Marilyn keeps tabs on the film's producers by seducing their employee Colin Clark, the lowly production assistant on the 1956 flick The Prince And The Showgirl upon whose book this film is based. Played by Eddie Remayne, he's just one of a crackerjack cast which includes Derek Jacobi, Julia Ormond (as Vivien Leigh), Kenneth Branagh (as Olivier) and Judi Dench, who lights up every scene she appears in as a wise, older actress on the production who comforts to the skittish mega-star. The art direction is spectacular and the vintage English scenery is a joy to behold. The humor is smart. Now of course, every major motion picture has to have a love affair which pans out in the end. Colin dates a young wardrobe mistress on the set before becoming enraptured with Marilyn. Much to my surprise, after Marilyn heads back to the states after completing her role, Colin returns to his first love but instead of running out together holding hands in the sunlight, the plot only hints that they may get back together, which makes a refreshing change from the typical formula. One common dynamic is that while the Prince's classically-trained English cast can act circles around Marilyn, they have to acknowledge that her unique gift allows her to easily outshine them all on screen.