(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 25 February 2012, http://expressbuzz.com/
Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Jude Dench, Emma Watson, Toby Jones
Director: Simon Curtis
Rating: 2.5 stars
There’s something about the tragedy of a seductress that begs a film. And months after The Dirty Picture, My Week with Marilyn finally makes its way to India. Why do I compare the two? Because they’re about men who cuddled women most men wanted to bang. And while they claim to bleed oomph, they end up lisping baby-talk. The story of this week with Marilyn is told from the perspective of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who’s third assistant director a.k.a. lackey to Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on his film The Prince and the Showgirl.
Michelle Williams, who in my mind is the housewife from Brokeback Mountain, has won an Oscar nomination for her pains. She did have a mighty challenge here, and has done her best with the role given to her. But there’s something about Marilyn Monroe’s heavy-lidded eyes and teasing grin that is simply inimitable. Perhaps what the film needed was a lookalike, not necessarily one who could act. Or someone so talented she could contort her face to look like Marilyn, as Forrest Whitaker did for his role as Idi Amin, and Jamie Foxx for his as Ray Charles.
When she walks out of an aircraft on the arm of her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), this Marilyn looks more timorous than tantalising. It’s only when Toby Jones, playing an irascible Arthur Jacobs, barks, “Marilyn, is it true you wear nothing in bed but perfume?” and she drawls, “Darling, as I’m in England, let’s say I sleep in nothing but Yardley’s Lavender”, that one starts relating Michelle Williams to Monroe.
In an over-the-top film, the music of which highlights its eccentricity, one is never sure how much is spoof and how much serious. It looks beautiful, straight out of the fifties. It has some wonderful lines, and perfect comic timing. It’s got a very capable cast. Dame Judi Dench plays an arch stage veteran, who won’t hesitate to boss over the great Laurence Olivier. Zoë Wanamaker plays up the idiosyncrasies of Paula Strasberg, Marilyn’s “acting coach” who asks her to think of Frank Sinatra and Coca-Cola whenever she’s upset with Olivier. Branagh brings Olivier to life with an edge of pastiche. Julia Ormond is a bit of a weak link as Vivien Leigh, and one wonders how Catherine Zeta Jones, who was slated to play the role, would have done it.
But, there is a sense of something important missing. Why don’t such powerful characters make a strong story? one wonders. The film meanders along, with no real purpose. It oscillates between the diary of Colin and the life of Marilyn. His dates with Lucy (Emma Watson) seem to disturb the unity of the storyline, while the episodic narrative of his relationship with Marilyn Monroe leaves little time for his rapport with other characters to be fleshed out. How does he know Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond)? Why does Olivier think aloud to a low-down gofer? And why does a film about such a poignant life fail to touch a single chord?