Tragic Marilyn memoir is flawed gem

Film
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN Cert: 15

Marilyn Monroe returns to the big screen with a career-making performance from Michelle Williams, supported by an array of outstanding British talent.

A true story, My Week With Marilyn combines two memoirs written by Colin Clark, a documentarian whose first job was as a production hand on the set of the movie that united Laurence Olivier with Marilyn Monroe in 1956.

The two stars did not get along. While Clark’s first memoir exposed on-set tensions – thanks to Monroe’s tendency to turn up late, forget her lines, and run off crying – his second memoir filled a gap left in the previous account: an illicit week spent with the icon.

Williams is stunning in her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. Glamorous, layered, but never quite there. Hidden under pills, alcohol, and some fairly serious abandonment issues, Monroe is a goddess who wants to be taken seriously, but remains trapped by her sex symbol status.

The problem is, though this is an adaptation of a memoir, the central romance between Clark and Monroe feels like fiction. The scenes on set are perfectly played, with a wonderfully exasperated Kenneth Branagh as Olivier leading an outstanding supporting cast made up of Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper and Zoe Wanamaker to name but a few.

It’s strange, then, that first time film director Simon Curtis chose to focus on a sensational relationship, as opposed to the more interesting clashes between Olivier and Monroe. As she fluffs her scenes, and Olivier becomes increasingly bewildered by her incompetence, the comic and tragic combine and make for compelling viewing. The romance seems overly sentimental in comparison.

If it slips into schmaltz, you can forgive Curtis because, when it’s good, it’s an impressively layered, immaculately performed and moving portrayal of a likeable, but tragic, star. It’s just a shame they chose the second memoir to hone in on, as opposed to the first.

Film
MONEYBALL Cert: 12A

A film about a flagging baseball team could, on this side of the Atlantic, be slightly alienating. Especially when the central character isn’t an underdog waiting for his one big chance, but a failed player forced to rebuild his team after losing three superstars to richer clubs. Sound boring? Thanks to Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zallian’s snappy script, impressively deft direction and the unlikely pairing of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, Moneyball smashes it hard.

The two central performances carry the film, with Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, a young Yale graduate recruited by general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) to help transform the club, as well as the game itself. With such a fluid, clever script to work with, Hill’s immaculate timing and mastery of the awkward moment acts as the perfect foil to Pitt’s charismatic, swaggering Beane. They possess a chemistry that can’t be faked – director Bennett Miller really did strike casting gold.

It’s also testament to the script that whole scenes discussing the in-depth, lingo-heavy, machinations of baseball are oddly accessible. Perfectly-pitched gags, passive aggression and Miller’s (Capote) ability to avoid cliché, even in the most dangerously sentimental moments, combine to lift this film well above the average overcoming-the-odds sports film. Miller captures the excitement both on and off the field, all the while displaying the ruthless, passionless side threatening the sport. Yes, there’s an underdog involved. In fact, Beane assembles an entire team of underdogs, but it succeeds because the script, the direction, and the performances never force emotion. A must see.