Oy, this movie’s a mess. If I see another burnt light bulb again and go insane, it’s because of Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn. The iconic Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) from the second she lands on England to work in the troubled set of The Prince and the Showgirl with (Michelle Williams), Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Dame Sibyl Thorndike (Dame Judi Dench), those light bulbs help to capture her image and aim to symbolize the fanfare around her but only shows how badly edited the movie is. Speaking of aesthetics, the cinematography is decidedly British, dulling the bright colors of 1956 movie making but it looks occasionally dewy and romantic.
I watched it expecting to experience the shadows that walked the hallways of those British studios in 1956. Marilyn, her arm cradled by her Method acting teacher Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) while third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) watches from behind. But neither Williams, Branagh, nor Julia Ormond who plays Vivien Leigh, capture these old essences, although it’s understandably hard for them to do so knowing how famous those characters still are. These actors’ voices are a bit deep for the characters they play and yes, I do want mimicry.
Let’s talk about Marilyn Monroe, the alter ego to Norma Jean Mortensen, the ineffable within the already ineffable. The closest that the latter is documented is in Monroe’s performance in The Misfits. Marilyn is the person on camera while Norma seems to be more of a blank slate. Williams portrays ‘Marilyn’ because she might be accused of playing herself if she fully tune out from emulating Monroe’s on-screen persona. It’s a kind of shorthand. But even in her attempts the poster for Prince has more chemistry that Williams and her co-stars. And despite getting Marilyn’s comic timing right, there’s too little in her performance that warrants the other characters’ praise of her. Her performance also has its share of multiple personalities, talking in Marilyn’s well-known whisper-y voice then dropping it in the next sentence.
There are moments where this bipolarity works. They’re filming an easy scene yet Marilyn fumbles lines. When Larry yells ‘Cut!’ she hides behind the door, sweat filling her brows. But when they do another take, she glows from afar. These transitions happen in seconds, Williams showing Marilyn’s professionalism. Then Larry tells her to ‘be sexy,’ making her eyes and lips quiver like Monroe’s, breaking down. In a way, Williams is micro-acting here, stretching and moving her body express both the sorrow and the joy. Leaning her head forward as Marilyn nervously tries to get another line right, or a hand gesture while spending alone time with Colin. If it’s not the real Marilyn, it’s the studied performance of a mid-century lady who finds her life’s mission to seduce either in person or on-screen. In a way she can represent the 21st century infantile ego, someone who’s been comforted into thinking that she can take her own time for the sake of professionalism. Someone who is addicted to constant praise and yet is never satisfied by it. We’re seeing this woman’s insecurities, putting her in a situation where she’s placed to work to be her best for these issues to come out, as an actress who’ll never know how great she is.
We’re on Kenneth Branagh‘s adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a Stanley Donen and Martin Scorsese presented Miramax production! It’s one of Shakespeare’s comedies that I haven’t read yet, is about the King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) asking three men in his court, Berowne (Branagh), Longaville (Matthew Lilliard) and Dumaine (Adrian Lester) to embrace three years of study and shunning love. Unfortunately, Princess of France (Alicia Silverstone) and her ladies-in-waiting including Katherine (Emily Mortimer) and Rosaline (Natahsa McElhone, her Streepian looks having such promise a decade ago) visit their kingdom. Because of the oath the women have to stay in a tent outside the palace gates outside but that doesn’t stop the men from peeking.
Pardon the blasphemy, but listening to the men harmonize to Irving Berlin classics like “Cheek to Cheek” is an equal alternative to Fred Astaire’s seminal version. The movie’s 1930’s setting also allows Branagh and crew to go all out with the musical numbers, the set pieces, the one-time cabaret-style sexuality, the ridiculous newsreels about mobilization and the war. The colourful cinematography and the costumes are a great treat for actors like Mortimer – who would go de-glam in their future roles.
It’s also about actors who shouldn’t be hanging out together. Branagh, Mortimer and McElhone are fine together, his soliloquies here are better than in his own adaptation of Hamlet. Branagh wants to make things interesting, casting 90’s teen movie regulars Lilliard and Silverstone. Lilliard is awesome in SLC Punk, his American delivery of the Bard’s lines can’t be as distracting as Keanu’s. Silverstone, however, might never rub the glee off her even when she’s playing middle-American mommy roles, but that’s what she’s here for, to offer sunshine and girliness fitting to a movie about romance. If you’ve ever read or heard me call Silverstone a ‘Shakespearean actor,’ it’s because of this movie. I don’t know whether Nivola or Lester fits in more with the Brits or the Americans. And hey, this movie is probably the only Shakespearean adaptation where miscegenation is no. Big. Deal.
Nationality and race is no boundary to make it seem like everyone was happy making this movie, despite its overshot ambitions. Oh and veterans like Timothy Spall as the lustful Armando, Nathan Lane as the King’s clown Costard and Geraldine McEwan as the tutor Holofernia are in this too, camping it up singing and dancing with the rest of the cast. This isn’t just any movie, this is a PARTY!