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Friday, 12 July 2013

My Post with Marilyn

Eddie Redmayne, you are the luckiest bastard in the world.

If you don't know who our good friend Eddie is, you may remember him as Lispy McLisperton in the recent big budget adaptation of Les Grumpy French Musicians. Good movie. Might do it at a later date.

"Tho long ath you don't poke any more thun at my thpeech impedimenth."
But I do digreth- I mean digress. Why is Mr. Redmayne so lucky? Because he has the wonderful honour of being the humble love interest of both Emma Watson (that would be Hermione Granger, you heathens) and Michelle Williams, who plays our titular leading lady in My Week with Marilyn, 2011's biopic of the fabulous Marilyn Monroe. You probably haven't heard of her, she isn't well known.

"I gave prepubescent males erections before it was cool."
The sad truth is that the majority of people will have passed over this little gem. It's a BBC Film, which means it's influence will not have extended far from our cold, frothy shores and, although they have come out with some wonderful films in the past, they still bear the stigma of being a TV company funding movies. And that's how stuff like Komodo gets made.

When it comes to biopics I get a little picky. I'm a big fan of overly dramatic Oscar bait, however I can't abide those dreary musician biopics with the plot of guy gets famous, guy ends up on drugs, guy loses everything/commits suicide (apart from a select few with a little more thought to them) or, heaven forbid, the far worse sports alternative. Moneyball was terrible. It wasn't even an underdog story; they had to force the "oh god, we're not going to make it" moment when the opposition gained a couple of points against their already crushing lead. It was like watching a formula one driver stop three feet from the finish line and start shitting himself because he only lapped the next driver six times.

Although it could be because I understand baseball about as well as anyone understands Guyball.
However, I digress once again. Based on the books (a novel way of gathering inspiration) The Prince, the Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn, Marilyn, as it shall now be called for the sake of the word count I've just increased by explaining the reason for calling the movie Marilyn, tells the story of Colin Clark, the author of said books. The film follows his relationship with Marilyn Monroe during the shooting of Laurence Olivier's The Prince and the Showgirl where he acted as her personal escort around London for, oh, I think about six or seven days. Ish. But here's the important bit: it's really good! Hurrah for another movie I like!

Right, on to the reviewing. Some of the main criticisms of this film centre on the rather unusual spacing of characters on screen and the slow, overly romanticised script which swings from light-hearted comedy to retrospectively foreboding tragedy, stating that these aspects create a disjointed, confusing experience. I disagree wholeheartedly. Although it could be seen as the work of an inexperienced director and an incompetent writer trying to cram as many Monroe moments into one plot as possible, I think far more thought has been put into what may initially seem a very bland affair.

Much like the humble digestive biscuit. Seen here sporting a very fashionable, yet traditional, chocolate glaze.
Yes, to a keen eye the characters seem to be performing on an almost two-dimensional plane, and the script does indeed read at times like a piece of wonderfully flamboyant amateur theatre. But, in the context, this works to the movie's advantage. I'm a film buff, however I am also notorious for getting a little swept up in the moment, often disregarding subtle cinematographic effects, but even I became aware of the rather unusual positioning in the film. Although, contrary to many other critiques, I do not think this was unintentional.

Much in a similar vein to the more stage-oriented theatrics of yesteryear that this film is set amongst and, more abstractly, to the flamboyantly melodramatic life that was that of Marilyn Monroe, I like to think that the director's intent was to draw attention to the question that is often asked when inspecting the life of this woman: At what point did the Marilyn on stage stop and the Marilyn off stage begin?

It may be water that has been tread so often it's turned into jelly (that's how jellyfish are born, children. Because science!) but it is an interesting question none-the-less, and one that is addressed very well in this film if my theory is to be believed. The flat spacing of the characters lends an uncomfortable atmosphere where it appears that every person is there not to interact naturally with each other, but instead to be seen. This seems to be most extrapolated in the scenes with Olivier (played by Kenneth Branagh) and the rest of the production team on set, possibly making a subtle jibe at the often attention seeking off-screen actions of celebrity actors and directors, both past and present.

The script, meanwhile, dips and dives through highs and lows which would be more at home in a rather twee romantic comedy and a Lars von Trier movie, respectively; best not to muddle the two up. The weaving plot slots perfectly into the almost bipolar peaks and troughs of elation and depression that Marilyn was prone to experiencing, and further illustrates the instability of her celebrity lifestyle and her fragile psyche creating a rather unsettling confusion where we aren't sure whether we're meant to feel happy or sad in any given scene, let alone how the character is going to feel in the next five minutes. Or whether she's just going to get naked, again.

Of course there's nudity, and of course I was going to screenshot it.
I took the liberty of doing a little of research to review Marilyn which essentially extended to watching The Prince and the Showgirl and a bit of light Googling, so for my hard work I thought I'd treat you to a little snippet of the level of detail the makers of Marilyn went to to (chuffa chuffa too too) emulate the film being used as a backdrop for theirs. It's hardly a patch on Kubrick levels of detail but on watching the original it is nice to see all of the little nods to Olivier's original. I would sincerely recommend having a quick peruse of it, simply to understand the splendid job Michelle Williams did of copying Marilyn's unique personality on and off camera.

2011 on the left, 1957 on the right, and somewhere there's probably a lighthouse.
Williams manages to beautifully capture the essence that made Marilyn so special on camera before immediately transforming in the blink of an eye into the vulnerable, self-doubting child kept hidden behind the lens. Some haunting lines uttered in these moments by Williams, although sadly diluted by other things going on in the scene on one occasion, provide an unnerving insight into "what it must be like to be the most famous woman in the world", a comment uttered during a welcome cameo by Derek Jacobi (think Henry V, or if you're an uncultured worm like me, Underworld).

Over the course of the film, she triumphs in the difficult task of taking a woman so unbelievably larger than life and taming her essence to a sympathetic person lost in the splendour of Hollywood to the point that even she is unsure of who she really is any more. Although other actors are marred by the light script (Judi Dench) or simply don't fit into their roles as snugly, this is all made up for by Williams' performance, and her portrayal of a woman so beloved by all yet so misunderstood is so captivating that I've spent the entire review pretty much talking about nothing else and is certainly a performance to be remembered.

"Thank you, and goodnight."
I must be honest, I have a very soft spot for the little corner of cinema where the movies about movies live. There's something captivating about getting to peek behind the camera even if, technically, you aren't. It's like when you visit their house they're the kind of people who give you free reign of the fridge and have a full set of toiletries laid out on you bed for you. Plus they don't mind when you bring round that woman you met at the pub who smells of blood, gin and cabbage.

They'll even burn the sheets and disinfect your wounds. Such good people.
But do not fear, this review is not biased simply because a character shouts "cut!" a couple of times. They'd have to do that at least, ohh...twelve times?

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Buying a Good Quality Fake Watch - 
You know it'll never be as good as the original, but despite the painted-on clock face and misspelled brand name you can't help but love it, because it's the closest you'll ever get to the real thing.

NB. Number of times "Marilyn" was said in this post: 16

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