My Week with the Artist (Weekly Links)

Clooney, in a world of Payne

Links to reviews I wrote for the Herald, and etc.

The Descendants. “The border between the slapstick and the tragic.”

The Muppets. “Funny and likable enough to stand on its own two feet.”

The Artist. “Dujardin is the movie’s main source of delight.”

My Week with Marilyn. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Who plays Marilyn Monroe? This is always going to be the key question in any depiction of the legendary doomed actress, who might be easy to impersonate but surely is difficult to capture.

The role goes to Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn,” a film based on Colin Clark’s memoir of being a third assistant director on the Monroe movie “The Prince and the Showgirl” in the late 1950s. In his role as a gofer, Clark got to know Marilyn for the needy and vulnerable person she was.

Michelle Williams is a gifted actress, lately associated with small, truthful performances in indies such as “Wendy and Lucy” and “Blue Valentine.” So she’s probably going to do something interesting, whatever the role might be. Director Simon Curtis does her no favors by beginning “My Week with Marilyn” with a re-created clip of Williams as Marilyn performing a song from one of MM’s films. Williams may be gifted, but she doesn’t have the pizzazz, the physical theatricality of a trouper like Monroe—or maybe she doesn’t have that hunger to be loved that made Monroe so vampily vibrant.

Once the movie settles into its groove, Williams is thoroughly convincing: wounded and insecure, with a playful streak. On the set of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” Monroe is up to her exasperating tricks, showing up late and not knowing her lines; offstage, she finds solace in the lovestruck gaze of young Colin (Eddie Redmayne). All of which cause headaches for the film’s star and director, Laurence Olivier. He’s played, in a crisp piece of impersonation, by Kenneth Branagh, who clearly has a ball capturing the rhythms of Olivier’s distinctive speech. (In a couple of scenes, Julia Ormond floats through as Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh; there’s also a nice, warm turn by Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike.)

Branagh’s performance is thoroughly artificial, but he is fun to watch. Less fun is the movie’s garish look, which I guess is somebody’s idea of re-creating the feel of a 1957 movie. And the scenes with Marilyn and Colin have the standard “my brush with greatness” quality to them, although at least Colin is engagingly rascally in ignoring his superiors and breaking a few rules. The costume girl (Emma Watson, from the “Harry Potter” industry) he’d been romancing, with whom he has a more realistic chance than he does with Marilyn Monroe, doesn’t find his sudden absences all that engaging.

The film has observations that might have seemed new in 1957 but are pretty commonplace now: the thought that a raw, undisciplined talent like Monroe might actually be more alive on screen than the superbly-trained Olivier, for instance.

So, a treatment that rarely rises above the level of a TV-movie … except for Michelle Williams. And there’s the main draw: watching an actress negotiate her way into an original performance of one of the most iconic movie stars ever. There’s some fascination there, to be sure, and maybe even an Oscar.

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Katy Sewall about the nostalgia seeping out of this week’s openings, and other throwback items such as Taco Flavored Doritos. The talk is archived here; the movie bit kicks in at the 15:30 mark.

The week at What a Feeling! has been all Eighties sequels; catch up on reviews of Fletch Lives, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Jewel of the Nile. And hey, we’ve reached the one-year birthday of this website, but don’t worry – there is much more 1980s-osity to come.

Next Wednesday night, Nov. 30th, stop by the Sammamish Library at 7 p.m. for “Things to Come: Visions of the Future on Film,” in which we look at utopian and dystopian pictures from the history of movies.