She Breaks Just Like a Little Girl
Applause and bravos greeting the New York Film Festival Q&A indicated that Michelle Williams’ acting and singing put her in line for at least a third Academy Award nomination. Done on a seven-week shoot, the film-savvy Festival Centerpiece My Week with Marilyn gives her the task of bringing to life the fragile candle in the wind behind Monroe’s larger-than-life image, the woman asking to be loved while the world ogled the superstar created by a dream machine.
Serious but at the same time a funny comedy of stars’ manners, the yet poignant tale is familiar -- her insecurities, pills and drink, the desire to be taken seriously as a person and actress, failed short marriages to famous inappropriate men, depressive unhappiness and illnesses, and the manipulativeness of her handlers and others who would profit from her celebrity.
In Q&A, director/co-executive producer Simon Curtis marveled at his feature début luck securing rights to Colin Clark’s (Eddie Redmayne) The Prince, the Showgirl and Me and, filling in days omitted from that account of the tense MM-Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) relationship during 1956 shooting, My Week with Marilyn. Following the memoirs whose veracity no one appears to question, Adrian Hodges’ screenplay is not biography/biopic but, rather, a charming snapshot of an icon, the truth often guessed at behind image and legend.
Third husband, an uneasy Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), in honeymoon tow, the American star deplanes in London at her thirty-year-old peak to collaborate with a prissy Sir Larry who was determined to enhance his old-school reputation in a changing England and maybe sleep with her.
The fireworks are catty entertainment, and the older actor-director would in the end acknowledge the credibility of the pouty, wiggly, breathy actress whose aspirations to produce films and to play Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov were greeted with guffaws. He remained hostile, however, to the Method she had studied under Actors Studio Lee and possessive Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker). His then-wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), a beauty at forty-three but conscious of the younger woman’s sexiness, is here motherly towards her rival, with no indication of her own difficult personality, nymphomania, unfaithfulness, and mental illness.
Dame Sybil Thorndike (Dame Judi Dench) sees behind Marilyn’s façade, to regally support the woman and her talent. Marilyn Monroe Productions partner and photographer Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) is nasty in his proprietorship, Paula smothering in hers, ordinary Londoners swarming, and, Miller returning to his work and daughter in New York, the bewildered star has no one to turn to.
The eye in her storm, and that through which all is seen, is Clark (later a non-fiction filmmaker), a disappointment to his moneyed family who through doggedness has got a first job at Laurence Olivier Productions. As Third Assistant Director, what he is, is a gopher, one with a dalliance with wary wardrobe girl Lucy Milton (Emma Watson) and a place in back from which to observe on-set jostling.
Dame Sybil is in her mid-seventies, but he is just a kid at twenty-three, so circumstances, luck and an open sensitive character get him a place as well in the lonely superstar’s life of the moment. Pleasantly enough -- and not wrong -- she guesses he has been set to spy at the country house rented for her and guarded by kind but strict Roger Smith (Philip Jackson). As star and young man become “chums,” she requisitions his presence over others’ objections, leading to an escape where they are chauffeured to the “real” Merrie Olde of castles and royal libraries (Derek Jacobi as Sir Owen Morshead) and tony boarding schools and rural waterways where she initiates skinny-dipping.
On the Lincoln Center stage, young Redmayne chuckled at that return to Eton, which he attended not all that long ago, and at Williams’ impromptu kiss planted on one of the schoolboys, the buss included in the film for the joy mischievous Marilyn felt in it. There must have been some element of the erotic in those several days fifty-five years ago, but that fleeting freedom is treated as light flirtation, meaningful only in context, for, having been in the gilded cage, the woman with no family or friends could not but choose to return to captivity.
Curtis was not sure but did “not believe Colin had any future contact with Marilyn Monroe.”
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated “R” for some language.)