By Bill Wine

KYW Newsradio 1060

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A half-century after her death, she and her legend continue to haunt us.  And that, combined with the pleasure of watching a skilled actress portray her on the big screen, makes My Week with Marilyn fascinating despite its limitations.

Marilyn Monroe and Michelle Williams make quite a team.

In My Week with Marilyn, Williams plays superstar and sex-goddess icon Monroe on the summer-of-1956 London set of The Prince and the Showgirl, the light comedy in which she co-starred with her director, superstar and Shakespearean acting icon Laurence Olivier, played by Kenneth Branagh.

(2½ stars out of 4)

Monroe is also on her honeymoon at the time with her new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, played by Dougray Scott.  When he comes back to the U.S., she starts spending her time with infatuated third assistant director Colin Clark, a glorified gopher and our narrator, played by Eddie Redmayne.

As the production proceeds, Monroe’s undisciplined approach to screen acting — her chronic lateness, her extreme mood swings, her dependence on an acting coach, her inability or refusal to memorize lines — keeps slowing things down and exasperating Olivier close to his breaking point.

Debuting British director Simon Curtis, a veteran of the BBC, works from Adrian Hodges’ adapted screenplay based on two memoirs by Colin Clark, The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn.  The movie doesn’t exactly dig beneath the surface, but it does manage to recapture the surface of an era in moviemaking that’s long gone.

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Curtis’s large and experienced supporting cast also includes Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Zoe Wanamaker, Julia Ormond, Derek Jacobi, Emma Watson, Toby Jones, and Michael Kitchen, and serves him well despite a script that doesn’t give them much to work with.

But it’s Williams whose spectacular work makes this otherwise pedestrian drama a must-see attraction: her Marilyn Monroe is the kind of acting that feels more like channeling.  She captures Monroe’s wiggling walk and breathy vocal style, as well as her neediness, insecurity, fragility, and frustration, and also her charm and talent and radiance. She even sings and dances in the Monrovian manner — and she’s absolutely on the money.

Moreover, she demonstrates the way in which Monroe’s off-screen personality was as much a character being played as was the persona she gave us on-screen.  And yet, as precise and uncanny as it seems, it’s not really an impersonation.  It’s her spirit and her essence that Williams delivers.

Perhaps most importantly, she dares you to take your eyes off her.  And you can’t.  Nothing was more true of Monroe and the “flesh impact” that director Billy Wilder claimed she had in a way no one else did.

Brangah brings the expected technical polish to his Olivier portrayal, but it never quite takes off, making it sometimes seem that he and his Olivier are simply conceding the film to Williams and her Monroe.  Not that that’s such a bad idea.

Don’t be surprised if Williams’ tour de force performance brings her a third Oscar nomination, to go along with the nods she received for Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine.

So we’ll film 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the backstage dramedy, My Week with Marilyn.  Like many of Ms. Monroe’s movies, this one is worth seeing precisely and exclusively because of her.

More Bill Wine Movie Reviews.

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