Gentlemen Prefer Marilyn Monroe

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A new movie about the iconic sex symbol is just a retread

By Mark Peikert

In an early scene in My Week with Marilyn, a film adaptation of Colin Clark's account of working on the set of 1957's The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, Olivier's wife, Vivien Leigh, watches hungrily as the young and beautiful Monroe captivates her husband. Reassured by Clark that she's still beautiful, Leigh turns to him. "Dear boy, I'm 43," she says wearily. "No one will love me for very much longer."

Leigh, despite her own riveting story of international success and madness, is not the subject of My Week with Marilyn, however. The vastly over-exposed Monroe is, and so instead of an insightful, melancholy examination of aging screen beauties, we're treated to another look at Monroe's little girl lost, popping pills, sloshing booze and being, in general, simply irresistible.

The problems with My Week with Marilyn start almost immediately, when a title card informs us that this is the true story of third assistant director Clark and Monroe-and is immediately followed by Clark sitting in a movie theater, watching a film of Monroe in concert that has never existed. So much for their true story (though Michelle Williams, who did her own singing, is remarkable in the musical numbers that open and close the film).

The making of The Prince and the Showgirl was a notoriously difficult affair, and some of that on-set drama makes it into My Week with Marilyn. Monroe, terrified by Olivier, is typically tardy and unprepared. Olivier (played here by Kenneth Branagh) is desperate to prove himself as a screen actor. Their clashes over Monroe's dependence on acting coach Paula Strasberg are dishy and fun; less arresting are the scenes between Clark and Monroe as they frolic in the English countryside and he rushes to her side at every new crisis.

The secret weapon of the film is, of course, Williams as Monroe. Breathy, vulnerable and totally in command, Williams is a nuanced delight. Eddie Redmayne does yeoman's work as Clark, but these two accomplished actors can't disguise the fact that they're in another coming-of-age story, this time with a celebrity twist: the older woman teaching the innocent young buck is the world's most famous sex symbol!

Director Simon Curtis elicits from his supporting cast-a who's who of British acting royalty-sharp performances that make their eventual disappearance halfway through all the more disappointing. Particularly enjoyable is Dame Judi Dench's turn as Dame Sybil Thorndike, an unlikely ally of Monroe's against the bullying from a frustrated Olivier. As Leigh, however, Julia Ormond (who makes the most of her few scenes) has been made up with so many thin wrinkles that her beauty is almost vanished-all the better to contrast Williams' alabaster skin and curves.

As is usually the case with movies about female celebrities, Williams' performance is ultimately better than the rote film, which tells us nothing new about Monroe, the art and tedium of making movies or what it means to be a sex symbol who is desperate for love.

Michelle Williams as the oft-portrayed Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn, which will be released Nov. 23. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

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