***1/2 (out of four)
Imagine skinny dipping with Marilyn Monroe. You’d probably have a silly, disbelieving grin on your face, too.
The based-on-a-true-story heart of “My Week with Marilyn” echoes “Notting Hill”: Lowly production assistant Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), still giddy to be working on his first movie, increasingly acquires the trust of the Hollywood icon (Michelle Williams) while she films “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) in 1956 England.
Sometimes Marilyn’s a mess of insecurity and line-flubbing; other times she’s magnetic, turning lives upside down with only a smile. Her glow inspires fawning, and Colin can’t help but long—as so many young men have hoped with women famous and otherwise—to get closer to such unknowable beauty.
Adrian Hodges’ script could never be called unconventional. The film’s bursting with spunk and lively performances, though, from Judi Dench (as Monroe’s on-set surrogate mother figure, actress Dame Sybil Thorndike), Dominic Cooper (as producer Milton Greene) and Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh. Emma Watson, as a wardrobe girl stood up by Colin once he gains Marilyn’s attention, has little to do in the film’s weakest plotline.
While Redmayne gives presence to a role that’s mostly an observer—Colin is the eyes through which we’re meant to see Marilyn, her girlish vulnerability and sexpot savvy—the movie belongs to Branagh and Williams. He’s the dapper talent ready to flip out over his star, and she’s the star who doubts her talent but never the power that the breathy softness in her voice can wield. She causes mob scenes and can turn on the charm at a moment’s notice, but “Marilyn,” though certainly not the first film on the topic, effectively suggests the anguish that resulted from Marilyn having such a keen awareness of what people wanted her to be—and no more.
It adds up to wonderfully crowd-pleasing Oscar bait that, for my money, registers as far more enthralling than this year’s Oscar winner, “The King’s Speech,” because of the complicated character at its center and the tension between fame and talent.
Colin, losing his innocence under the most extraordinary circumstances, struggles to reconcile the Marilyn he sees in person with the one he sees on the screen. Ultimately some of the most intriguing aspects of the legend were her efforts to repurpose what she put on the screen into everyday life.
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U
email@example.com. @mattpaisCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun