REVIEW: My Week with Marilyn

14 01 2012

While I’m always urging filmmakers to push the envelope, sometimes it can be nice to see a movie that takes no risks and is proud of it.  Provided that the movie is pleasant, easygoing, light and breezy like a Sunday stroll in the park, these movies can be a real treat to sit back, relax, and enjoy.  Very few movies get my “Sunday stroll” certification, and “My Week with Marilyn” earns it with ease.

It’s a little more serious than the usual stroll, but it’s a great deal of fun to watch largely because of how easily Michelle Williams totally loses herself in the persona of Marilyn Monroe.  She effortlessly brings to life the charm, the sultriness, and the seduction of the actress, making us wonder if we’re falling in love with Monroe all over again – or Williams for the first time.  While she has shocked in “Blue Valentine” and riveted in “Brokeback Mountain,” Williams has shied away from endearing and glamorous characters.  Yet with Marilyn Monroe, it provides the perfect marriage of her stunning, red-carpet looks and grace with her remarkable ability to plumb the depths of tortured and confused women.

The script by Adrian Hodges gives Williams an ample base to build her interpretation of Monroe without constraining her artistic decisions.  She may spout some lines we would expect the famed actress to say, but he thankfully realizes that the majority of the performance would come from her physicality and the bubbling psychological torment she builds up so deftly.  It’s a perfect blend of understated and flashy that will make you want to spend a week with Marilyn.

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Classics Corner: “Some Like It Hot”

24 08 2011

As I talked about in my “Weekend Update” column two weeks ago, comedy with lasting cultural value is few and far between at the movies nowadays.  The genre has become heavily manufactured, producing standard-order products that entertain at the most basic level to turn a quick profit.  Ben Fritz of The Los Angeles Times wrote this about the state of the movies in July: “Increasing concern about the economics of comedies has also led studios to increasingly rely on well-known names with track records. That’s why Apatow, Adam Sandler and ‘Hangover’ director Todd Phillips remain among the busiest people on Hollywood’s comedy circuit.”

But as I am quite notorious for insisting, the instant gratification culture that began in earnest with the proliferation of the Internet is truly far-reaching, changing the way that the industry makes movies.  They want movies to make money so they can appear to be in the black for their shareholders.  The easiest way to do that is by producing a movie that barely has enough laughs to sustain a 150 second trailer and then building clichéd tropes as filler around it.  This makes for instant gratification, sure, but how many of our comedy favorites of this decade will be not only memorable but still funny in 50 years?  “The Hangover?”  “Superbad?”  “Wedding Crashers?”

To keep viewers for many years to come, studios should be patterning their comedies more like “Some Like It Hot,” Billy Wilder’s classic that was ranked the funniest American film ever by the American Film Institute in 2000.  I don’t know if I wholeheartedly espouse this choice, but I will say this: on first view at home, it made me laugh more than most modern comedies make me laugh in the theaters.  And on second viewing, it held up better than any recent genre effort.

The key is this, in my opinion: it’s all in the nuances.  Humor calibrated to please the culture of its time will rise and fade like a setting sun; take for instance 1973’s “Blazing Saddles.”  Yes, it’s absolutely a riot, but a scene of flatulence which was shocking then is now commonplace and incredibly tame compared to the nonstop easy scatological humor that Hollywood comedians insist on throwing at us like we’re nine years old.  (Looking at you, Happy Madison.)

It all starts at the grassroots, namely with the writers and the actors.  This is where comedy flourishes, when everyone is game to generate something hilarious once and just as good afterwards.  Billy Wilder, perhaps one of the most diversified figures in cinematic history, co-wrote this story that lovingly pastiches multiple movie archetypes – the gangster flick, the screwball sex comedy, the slapstick humor popularized in the silent era by Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, and a non-tailored romance with some interesting twists and turns.  His excellent cast, which includes the enchanting Marilyn Monroe and “her bosom companions” played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, carries the movie to comedic transcendance.

Not too unlike “The Hangover,” Wilder’s film begins with a crazy premise: Curtis and Lemmon’s macho Prohibition-era Chicago musicians, fleeing the scene of a gang massacre, get in drag to join a women’s band on the road.  They fit in rather nicely on just appearance, but that’s the least of their problems.  There’s the issue of another smoking hot singer in the group (Marilyn Monroe) who’s voice is as stunning as her face.  There’s also the problem of them attracting other men to their new personas as the billionaire Osgood Fielding takes a special interest in one of them.

It’s a movie of twists and turns, mistaken identities, hilarious physicality, snappy dialogue, and just plain fun.  Now doesn’t THAT sound like the type of comedy you’d pay to see?