My Week with Marilyn

Tourists wandering through the architectural canyons of Chicago will find many amazing things to capture on their iPhones; the Picasso in Daley Plaza, the Gehry bandstand in Millennium Park, and a 26 foot tall statue of Marilyn Monroe with her skirt blowing up that they can stand underneath and take pictures of her crotch. Who says public art is not accessible?

If Marilyn Monroe had not “accidentally” swallowed a bottle of pills she would have been 86 years old, and I guarantee that the world would not be in the grip of the Marilyn frenzy that exists today. Stars who age gracefully and live full, productive lives are not nearly as likely to become iconic as the young beautiful ones who die tragically early.

So instead of a body of film work to study, we get giant plaster replicas of her body. We’ve had Madonna videos, Elton John songs and Anna Nicole Smith. We get Smash, a new TV series that shows the behind the scenes drama of putting together a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe’s life. And we also get My Week with Marilyn, a film based on the memoirs of Colin Clark, who was an intern on the set of her movie The Prince and the Showgirl.

The story feels like one more way to exploit the Marilyn cash cow, with Colin Clark claiming he became her confidant and ally during the making of the film. While it may very well be true, the storyline is flimsy and doesn’t really add much information to the myth of Monroe. What is does provide is a latticework for a couple of remarkable actors to latch onto and take off with superlative performances.

When I heard that Michelle Williams was going to play Marilyn, I found it a little hard to swallow. Although she’s had a fine indie career since her Dawson’s Creek days, it’s tough to shake the stench from The WB (coughKatieHolmescough). But she immersed herself in the character and the transformation is astonishing. I’m pulling for Viola Davis to win Best Actress for The Help, but I think Michelle’s stand-out performance really makes this race into a three-way battle (with Meryl Streep being the third). Michelle isn’t quite as zaftig as Marilyn was, but she is able to capture the insecurity and vulnerability that made life on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl so miserable. Kenneth Branaugh is always good, but his portrayal of Laurence Olivier as the film’s demanding director/star is scarily wonderful. You can see why Marilyn was terrified to work with him. There is also a heartbreaking tension between Olivier and his then wife, Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond), who fears that her beauty is fading and recognizes the longing glances that her husband sends toward Marilyn. The complexity of relationships in this film surprised me; Marilyn always seemed so alone, yet she had a whole roster of people who were not necessarily looking out for her best interests. The film is very enjoyable and a spot on reproduction of the period. You don’t have to be a fan of Marilyn to like this film, but you may be one when it’s over.

Barf Bag Rating: ZERO BAGS

And by the way, Chicago, that statue that someone approved and paid for is not art and makes this city look really dumb. Apparently tourists are flocking to it so they can take pictures of themselves staring up at her underwear, but Louis Sullivan and Mies van der Rohe are rolling in their graves, wishing their buildings were in Rockford instead.

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