One of the most blissful pleasures to be found at the movies this year is Michelle Williams’ performance as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn,” a British drama that charts the London production of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” Monroe’s 1957 collaboration with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Following some palpable reluctance in a glitzy opening number, Williams, with a wink, a flash, and a whole lot of dead-on girlish ignorance, introduces yet another facet of her exceptional acting talent, serving up the enchantment of an icon and the unspoken complexity of a rich character. “Shall I be her?” Williams coos before shimmying and blowing kisses to the press, an underscoring of Monroe’s triple identity as lost soul, celebrity and on-screen persona, all three of which Williams nails.
It’s through no aid of the material that Williams triumphs so completely, as “Marilyn” is otherwise a drastically unspecial affair, jammed with made-for-TV clichés and stock characterizations. Based on two diaries by Colin Clark, a “Prince and the Showgirl” production assistant, the film sees a tired coming-of-age tale run parallel with a tired tale of movie-star meltdown, with Clark (Eddie Redmayne) cozying up to Monroe in the good (riverside strolls, playful shop talk) and the bad (drunken sobbing, dozens of failed takes). In a word, it’s garbage, and director Simon Curtis makes a mountain of poor decisions, including adopting a waggish, throwback tone that clashes with the story, and allowing for a lurching editing style that’s strikingly sloppy for a supposed awards contender.
Indeed, Williams should handily pick up a Best Actress nod for her work, and due to casting appropriateness alone, Branagh, in all his effete hamminess, also is poised to be recognized, in the Supporting Actor race. Another standout is the dependably delicious Judi Dench, who characteristically makes gold of her minimal screen time, playing aging actress Sybil Thorndike.
But, frankly, Williams is the only reason to catch this undeservedly heralded trifle, living up to what one character says of Monroe herself: “When she gets it right, you just don’t want to look at anyone else.”
Two reels out of four
Now playing at the Ritz Five
With “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” increasingly prolific master filmmaker Werner Herzog — whose newest documentary, “Into the Abyss,” is already playing in theaters — takes viewers on a haunting and fascinating tour of France’s Chauvet Cave, whose wall drawings are mankind’s oldest known visual art. Presenting a rare opportunity to experience a highly protected space, the film pairs archaeological discovery with Herzog’s trademark existential ponderings. SPR
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