Seven-day itch, barely scratched
By Mark Jenkins
Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011
Colin Clark is an upper-class Brit who comes from a line of traditionalists and antiquarians. But it's 1956, London is almost beginning to swing, and Colin doesn't care about old stuff. He loves The Movies.
Then, by an impossible stroke of luck, he encounters The Movies in the flesh - sexy, vivacious, mercurial and American. Her name is Marilyn Monroe.
This really happened, sort of. "My Week With Marilyn" is based on Clark's memoirs, which recount his time as third assistant director on "The Prince and the Showgirl," a routine cinematic farce directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. Monroe was typecast as a simple hoofer, but off-camera she apparently was rather complicated.
"My Week With Marilyn" is an air-churned confection of a movie, yet it does include some conflict, notably the familiar friction between American barbarism and British repression. Olivier, played broadly by Kenneth Branagh, comes from the theater and expects professionalism and discipline. Monroe, who arrives with new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), is a movie star and "method" actor. Monroe (Michelle Williams) doesn't work when she isn't feeling it, and after Miller returns to New York, that's not very often.
Enter Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who lucks into the job through a family connection. He becomes Monroe's gofer, confidant and companion. When she's playing hooky, Clark shows her the pleasures of suburban London, from castles to pubs. (The movie makes 1950s Britain look vastly more inviting than the usual portrayal.) Monroe flirts shamelessly with the young man - if walking into a room stark naked can be termed "flirting."
Moody and dependent on pills, Monroe is not always fun. But Clark has a way with her, which only further vexes Olivier. The relationship can't last, of course, yet Clark is sufficiently smitten to blow his chance with the pretty costume girl (Emma Watson).
Downplaying the cultural divide between Olivier and Monroe, director Simon Curtis and writer Adrian Hodges suggest that the actor-director's exasperation with his co-star can largely be explained by jealousy. In a candid moment, Olivier admits that Monroe looks alive on screen and he doesn't.
This seems glib, but it suits the film, in which Williams's Monroe is more vital than anything else. The actress captures Monroe's range of emotions and personae, her shifts from vulnerability to brashness. If Monroe can't always play the part Olivier has given her, she seems much more sure of the one assigned by life.
At one moment, Monroe turns to Clark and asks, "Shall I be her?" And, instantly, she is - effortlessly bewitching a crowd with movie-queen poses. If only the movie could turn it on so reliably, "My Week With Marilyn" might be profound rather than simply pleasant.
Photo gallery: Marilyn Monroe's famous photos, famous loves
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