In 1820, Charles Caleb Colton wrote the famous quote, "Imitation is the sincerest (form) of flattery." In the 21st Century, where we're bombarded with imitation, that quote might not ring as true as it did back in the day, although it does hold up in the fantastic film My Week With Marilyn, and actress Michelle Williams' stunning portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. Not only is My Week With Marilyn the Oscar bait most of us presumed it would be, it's also a starkly hilarious peek inside the filmmaking system of the 1950s.
My Week With Marilyn is based on the memoir by Colin Clark, who, in 1956, at the age of 23, found himself working on the Sir Laurence Olivier film The Prince and the Showgirl, as a third assistant director (i.e. production assistant). Little did Colin know that his life would be turned upside down by one simple casting decision: bringing Marilyn Monroe to London where she would star as the Showgirl opposite Olivier. Monroe was at the height of her fame in 1956, just a year removed from The Seven-Year Itch. The Prince and the Showgirl was the first (and only) movie she produced, along with the first (and only) movie she made outside the U.S. Hollywood system. It becomes quickly apparent that Marilyn might be more trouble than she's worth, constantly arriving late to work and insisting her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wannamaker) be right by her side, to help sculpt her rigid method style of acting. While her antics drive everyone on the set away from Marilyn, Colin is continually drawn closer to the screen icon, and as the plot unfolds, we're brilliantly reminded why and how Marilyn Monroe had the whole world eating out of the palm of her hand.
What I was most surprised about in My Week With Marilyn is how scathingly funny it is, with most of the humor coming from the fantastic Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier during his rants about Marilyn. Screenwriter Adrian Hodges does a fantastic job of balancing the levity of a chaotic movie production (without an abundance of "inside baseball") with the intriguing relationship that builds between Marilyn and Colin. It is deftly paced at just 99 minutes, and there isn't a single frame that feels out of place or unnecessary. What's even more surprising is Adrian Hodges is best known for his work on the small screen, primarily for creating the British genre series Primeval. Director Simon Curtis is in relatively the same boat as well, making his feature film debut after 20 years of producing and directing TV movies. I surely hope they both don't go back to the small screen after such a gorgeous and compelling movie like this.
After receiving her second Oscar nomination last year for Blue Valentine (her first was in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain), I can't see any possible scenario where Michelle Williams won't at least get her third Academy Award nod for this riveting performance. When I brought up the imitation/flattery quote earlier, I didn't mean to sully her performance by suggesting Michelle Williams mocks Marilyn Monroe. However, anyone who has seen a Marilyn Monroe movie before will be blown away by Michelle Williams' voice as Marilyn, which we see right away with her rendition of the song Heat Wave from There's No Business Like Show Business. Marilyn Monroe's iconic voice has been parodied countless times throughout the years, in various forms of entertainment and media, but I can't remember anyone being as spot-on as Michelle Williams in this movie, and not just with her voice, but facial expressions, her flirtatious, suggestive poses she gives when the cameras are around, the whole nine yards. But the beauty of her performance, and this movie as a whole, is it takes us beyond the legend and gives us a real account of what Marilyn Monroe was like as a person, both the good and the bad. Eddie Redmayne gives an admirable yet somewhat flat performance as Colin Clark, although I suppose most performances would seem flat next to Williams, and Kenneth Branagh simply shines as the tormented Sir Laurence Olivier, whose tirades will have you in stitches. The rest of the cast is littered with talent from the likes of Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Derek Jacobi, and Emma Watson, and it's impressive that Simon Curtis could assemble such an impressive cast even for rather small roles. Like most great movies, though, each of these actors are given their moments to shine in unique ways, which is even more impressive since this is just a 99-minute movie.
I remember the first time I watched Some Like It Hot, which interestingly enough was the movie Marilyn Monroe starred in directly after The Prince and The Showgirl. What I remember most about the movie, still considered to this day as one of the greatest comedies of all time, is that Marilyn Monroe just might have been the most alluring woman in the history of human civilization, years before surgical beauty was en vogue. Everything about her, from her voice, body, pouty looks, made it impossible for you to take your eyes off of her. My Week With Marilyn manages to give us a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe's unique allure once more, with a spellbinding performance by Michelle Williams, and a story with the double-edged strength to jerk some tears and split some sides.
My Week with Marilyn is out November 23, 2011.