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My Week With Marilyn

All things being equal, if you were going to make a movie about Marilyn Monroe centered around the production of a particular film, I would choose Some Like It Hot, which is as legendary for what Billy Wilder got on the screen as for the difficulties he had getting it there. (You could probably make a whole film just out of Wilder spending 40 takes trying to get Monroe to say, “Where’s the bourbon?”)

But no third assistant director working for Wilder had the sense to become Monroe’s onscreen friend and keep a diary about it, which is why we instead have My Week With Marilyn, based on Colin Clark’s memoir of just that. As a 23-year-old Oxford graduate with a yen to work in movies, his family connections got him a job with Laurence Olivier’s production company. Then at the peak of his fame (he even had a cigarette named after him), Olivier was trying to boost his film fame by directing himself in The Prince and the Showgirl, in which he and Vivien Leigh had starred onstage. In place of his wife, he chose Monroe to co-star in the film, one of those light comedies which, with no fear of hyperbole, can be termed “piffle.”

Too much of this film about a film skirts the same description. (Pifflicious?) It resembles My Favorite Year minus the slapstick and restrained by factuality from the salaciousness it might have offered for substitute. Fans of Monroe have been carping that Michelle Williams doesn’t look much like her. Well, who does? She looks enough like her, and inhabits the troubled soul of a lost girl who is encouraged to devalue her natural talents in search of intellectual pretentiousness, to bring the character to life.

Nearly as intriguing, and consistently more fun to watch, is Kenneth Branagh’s impersonation of Olivier. Feeling past his prime and filled with his own uncertainties, he is eager to use Monroe’s onscreen charm in a failed attempt to restore his own luster. The funniest parts of the film are watching him trying to deal with Monroe’s famous infatuation with “Method” acting while being unable to remember small bits of dialogue: After watching her screw up the same line a dozen times, he yells “Cut!” as if the word had an “n” in it.

Watch the trailer for My Life With Marilyn

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