My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn

*1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"When love goes wrong, nothing goes right," Michelle Williams sings as Marilyn Monroe at the very start of My Week With Marilyn. I don't know whose love went wrong, but nothing goes right in this film from this moment on.

Williams is wearing a dress with such obvious hip-padding that it is more reminiscent of Rei Kawakubo's famous "bump" collection from spring/summer 1997 for Comme des Garçons than any Monroe moves from the Fifties. Are the inserted padded pillows purposefully evident, to make doubly sure the audience understands how difficult it is to play the movie icon? If you like to watch films that confirm everything you think you already know and that won't challenge you on any level, you've hit the jackpot with My Week With Marilyn.

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On her honeymoon with Arthur Miller, Monroe came to England for six weeks to film The Prince And The Showgirl with Laurence Olivier in 1956. Recent Oxford graduate Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) was third assistant director to Olivier and wrote two memoirs about his experience with the two larger-than-life figures.

By using the most conventional of first person voice-overs, the audience's critical thinking is lulled to sleep with anecdotes about the poor little rich boy from "a family of over-achievers" who disgraces them by entering the movie business. Colin, our narrative guide also must think we are a little slow, and gives us the same information three different ways. We see a scene, then the dialogue or voice-over tells us what we just saw and the music adds how we should feel about it. You could wash your hair, play scrabble and still not miss the point.

One by one, we meet the British acting royalty of 2011. I am always happy to see Michael Kitchen, and his Hugh Perceval rightfully rolls his eyes at the young man with all the right connections who can get him Noël Coward's number in no time. Colin is just a little too happy with his overly shabby room and comes across as condescending, not charming. Watching famous people from the Fifties parading pretend problems as they are played by famous actors from 2011 with a chuckle and a wink does not make for an entertaining 100 minutes.

Poor Julia Ormond has to struggle through her Vivien Leigh, who is supposed to personify the troubles of Hollywood's ageism for actresses, Dame Judi Dench's Dame Sybil Thorndike is very Judi-Denchy and gets to say lines like: "We were all Bolsheviks in 1928." Female jealousies are exploited in an inattentive, unattractive, and thoughtless way, and are in line with the false solidarity and the perhaps a little less fake hurt. Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker), who aided Marilyn in her method acting, is treated as a manipulative monster in this film. Derek Jacobi, as royal librarian in Windsor Castle, answers Marilyn's question if they had the Mona Lisa in the collection with the line: "Alas, that one got away."

The absolute worst dialogue is given to Arthur Miller (played with a most unconvincing accent by Dougray Scott). "That one's pretty darn good," or "You knocked it out of the park" are two of the perhaps seven cartoonish sentences he gets to say to Marilyn.

Kenneth Branagh, meanwhile, is mercilessly overacting and his every face muscle shouts out: Look at ME - I am playing Olivier! There is nothing endearing about such a blatant lack of sincerity in his performance. The premise is as deep as a gossip tabloid, antiseptic and emotionally dishonest.

A movie star who wants to be an actor meets an actor who wants to be a movie star is the one and only accepted theme that functions as the steamroller flattening out all the possibly fascinating sexual and social politics hidden under the surface of the actual Monroe/Olivier encounter.

Emma Watson plays the wardrobe girl Lucy, who goes on dates with Colin and is heartbroken when he spends his romantic, yet platonic week with Marilyn. Was she placed in the story to obliterate doubts about Colin's heterosexuality? When I asked Simon Curtis at the press conference, he merely confirmed that there was a wardrobe girl in Clark's memoir.

"I just want to be loved like a regular girl," Marilyn sums it all up, if you didn't get it for the first hour of the film. Was it Simon Curtis' goal to make "just a regular film"? What has been achieved is a kind of pseudo documentary in the strictest sense of the term.

There is a fear present underneath all the conventions. The dark monster of truth rears its ugly head only once and shows the dangerous underbelly of narrative lies, in a scene in the car after Marilyn and her young friend swim naked in the river. Nat King Cole's version of Autumn Leaves is heard and a syrupy horror of inescapability on her face and in the rain feels honest and true.

If you are looking for a bright spot, keep your eyes peeled for the flawless lapels on the elegant tweed jackets.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2011
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Biopic exploration of the tension that developed between Monroe and Laurence Olivier on the set of The Prince And The Showgirl.
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Festivals:

New York 2011

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