Friday, November 18, 2011

My Week with Marilyn: Some like it lukewarm

My Week with Marilyn is based on memoirs by filmmaker Colin Clark, reflecting on how in 1956, when Clark was 23, he broke into the British film industry via a combination of family connections, utter inoffensiveness and minimal persistence, and how his maiden voyage as third assistant director brought him into close proximity with not only Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh but also Marilyn Monroe, who took a shine to Clark for a little while and sort of broke his tender heart before moving on to other projects, other hearts, other nervous breakdowns. The film, directed by veteran TV-movie helmer Simon Curtis, is very pretty and tasteful, very nicely recreates period and milieu, and is all but devoid of stakes. When Michelle Williams’ Marilyn turns those soft, lovely, spellbinding, mostly unblinking eyes on Eddie Redmayne’s Colin it’s as though the rest of the world could disintegrate in an agonizing atomic catastrophe and it wouldn’t matter. Actually, nothing much matters here. No hidden depths behind those eyes are plumbed, our hero comes of age while remaining a total cypher, life goes on. But hey, Colin Clark went skinny-dipping with a sex goddess! So high-fives all around, boys.

Best thing about the film: Kenneth Branagh plays Olivier, which is to say that Branagh has been cast in the role he’s been casting himself in since the very beginning of his career. Worst thing about the film: Adrian Hodges’ screenplay gives each of the supporting characters overwritten monologues where they suddenly and implausibly confess their insecurities and speak aloud every drop of subtext. (Perhaps this comes directly from Clark’s memoir; I haven’t read it.) The somewhat interesting result of these best and worst things is that you get a scene where Branagh/Olivier articulates all of Branagh/Olivier’s anxieties about aging and failing to reach all of Branagh/Olivier’s goals, which inevitably prompts one to consider how far apart the careers of Branagh and Oliver finally are. Yet in an odd way, Branagh’s humbling portrayal of Olivier and its weird merging of Branagh and Olivier gives me a new respect for Branagh, who may finally have severed himself from the quixotic ambition to be Olivier, not by directing Thor, but by saying “Fuck it all” and actually, openly embodying his idol in this pretty mediocre movie. Good for him. Makes me genuinely curious what he’ll do next.

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