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My Week with Marilyn: historical fairy floss

Another ball of awards season fluff, another chunk of Oscar bait, another faux prestigious American film draped around a performance built on parroting the mannerisms of a beloved celebrity.

Director Simon Curtis’s My Week with Marilyn is a passable piece of historical fairy floss that succeeds best by inviting male audiences to ponder what it would be like to be with her and female audiences what it would be like to be her. “Her” of course is the inimitable — but now sort of imitable — Marilyn Monroe, incarnated by Michelle Williams, who has nibbled the taste of Oscar glory twice before (nominated for Brokeback Mountain [2005] and Blue Valentine [2010]).

There is more than a hint of statuette hunger in Williams’ lackadaisical lilt, more than a bug-eyed wanting in her bulbous blue eyes, but she nevertheless delivers a strong, airy performance that skilfully juggles ditziness and naivety in the way we would expect from a portrayal of  Monroe.

Imitating the gorgeous superstar is a tough gig to pull off and not an easy one to judge. Monroe’s legacy lives on through knowledge of her films, not her private life. What we know of her existence away from the cameras generally constitute singular impressions — rumours of sleeping with JFK, her interactions with Truman Capote, a fancy for pills and booze — despite the tragic nature of her death.

Williams looks the part and focuses on Monroe’s cheery aloofness and carefree behaviour, legitamizing her as the kind of gal who would look stunning and child-like — rather than stupid and juvenile — running around a park clutching a roll of toilet paper.

Based on a book of the same name by Colin Clark, a crew member on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), the film follows his interactions with the hottest lady in the biz, from awkward casual conversations to what can be broadly labelled a romance in a most innocent sense: holding hands, visits to the park, naps in the same bed (clothes on), unintentional glimpses of soap-lathered legs in a bath, etc.

My Week with Marilyn floats around their romance with, shall we say, Monroe-esque aloofness, and there is little to propel the story to interesting places or objectives. The film is careful when considering Monroe’s risqué elements (Mr Booze, Lady Pill Box); careful not to singe her beauty, to make a meal of it. This is one of those storytelling challenges generally relegated to the bins of damned if you do (sensationalizing!) and damned if you don’t (being soft! Gilding the lilly!).

My Week with Marilyn is charmingly vacuous but Curtis maneuvers it into an odd position, vivid in its depiction of its subject but unable or unwilling to really explore her. The film renders its protagonist fondly, carefully and ultimately meaninglessly, the audience lulled into committing the same sin as the star struck crowds it depicts: of gawking at Monroe, viewing her as a kind of resplendent freak, a blessed-by-the-Gods poster girl more fictitious than real. The tragedy of Monroe’s deceptively complex existence was that in death it took on no more meaning than it did in a life. The sadness of that legacy is underlined by My Week with Marilyn’s beautiful emptiness.

My Week with Marilyn’s Australian theatrical release date: February 16, 2011. 

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    hilary linstead
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Such a delicious film . Michelle Williams and Eddie Redmayne give us a touching portrait of the childlike vulnerability of Marilyn Monroe, seduced by her love of fame and fearful for the bruised child within, who propels herself into an impetuous dalliance with starstruck, love-struck, Colin – the two of them pausing for the briefest impulsive moment to ‘live’ their longed-for fantasies. Kenneth Branagh has a ball as Lawrence Olivier.

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