My Week with Marilyn
Directed by: Simon Curtis
Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh
Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins
Release Date: November 23, 2011
PLOT: A third assistant director (Redmayne) on the set of Sir Laurence Olivier’s (Branagh) The Prince and the Showgirl starts an unusual relationship with Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe (Williams).
WHO’S IT FOR?: My Week with Marilyn will appeal to fans of the title-star, but won’t reward them with the type of full background one would generally receive from any biopic. This movie is best for those who are simply thrilled watching famous actors play other famous actors. If you want to see a film that really celebrates movie-making, you’d be more rewarded with a viewing of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.
EXPECTATIONS: Filling the shoes (and dress) of Marilyn Monroe is no big feat. I was curious as to how Williams, who was most recently seen in the brutal Blue Valentine, would fare with such a performance. And just how involving could hearing about someone else’s week with Marilyn Monroe be?
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe: The Oscar-nominated actress effectively teases us into her loving her performance, just as Monroe did with her entire existence as a legend of Hollywood. Williams uses her own powerful presence to play Monroe inside and out. She gives us Monroe’s flamboyance and slinks tightly into Monroe’s sex symbol skin. And at the same time, the Blue Valentine star is highly in tune with the subtext of Marilyn, quietly nudging her insecurities and curiosities, all while playing Monroe with an addictive accessible innocence. With an exception of her body, Williams literally disappears into the role (to use the age-old praise). Because let’s be honest: you’d never fully believe me playing someone like George Clooney because I simply don’t have the face. And Williams doesn’t exactly have the same “assets” that contributed in making Monroe such delicious knockout. Still, Williams works us with everything she’s got.
Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark: An entitled young man who loves the movies, Clark uses his family connections to “join the circus,” AKA weasel his way into Olivier’s production company. No matter how incredible Clark’s life (or week, really) must have been, Redmayne is a dull surrogate to follow around during such a dreamy scenario. The color of My Week With Marilyn is spread to everyone around him, making the person we are stuck to the most as riveting as a blank piece of paper.
Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier: Casting Branagh to play Olivier is perfect, and it adds another hint of “dreaminess” to this story already about a third AD who enjoys being tooled by Marilyn Monroe. And because it’s such a direct, almost obvious choice, we’re constantly reminded we’re watching Branagh. And yet, this feels like a thorough impersonation more than a performance, especially when Olivier’s appearance in this movie is spotty. He’s used in the script every now and then to express his thoughts about Marilyn (sometimes with the help of Shakespeare), and then later convey how she has changed him. He doesn’t have his own story; he’s ultimately a cute inclusion.
TALKING: Whether it’s true to the real Marilyn or not, Williams’ interpretation of the star says “Gee” a lot. In the same fashion, Olivier quotes Shakespeare as if the bard were his subconscious, which is funny in at least one occasion. Bookend narration by Colin opens and closes the story, but feels ultimately drab; it’s a whimsical push in the wrong direction.
SIGHTS: Marilyn puts a little pep into its stuffy script with sprightly montages, as driven by big band drums. They efficiently condense some of the movie’s important attributes (such as the presence of Marilyn, and even the actual shooting of The Price and the Showgirl itself).
SOUNDS: Jazzy drums give certain scenes toe-tapping, nostalgic energy. The My Week with Marilyn soundtrack features a few performances by Williams of songs once sung by Monroe, including “Heat Wave” and “That Old Black Magic.”
BEST SCENE: The “date” that Colin and Marilyn goes on captures the aimed essence of the movie, as it indulges the viewer in what a 1:1 date with the star would be like, while also cluing us into the strangeness behind being a woman like Monroe. It’s very disturbing when Marilyn says, “Should I be her?” before forcefully posing before a crowd.
ENDING: Narrator Colin leaves the audience with a vomit-worthy final say about his experience: “My only task was to not close my eyes.”
REWATCHABILITY: Outside of giving Williams’ performance another look, I can’t imagine a second viewing would be particularly interesting. My guess is that a post-My Week with Marilyn viewing of The Prince and the Showgirl would be more rewarding.
As its story unfolds, My Week with Marilyn resembles less of our own fantasy, and becomes more like the bland vision of a boring film personality like Redmayne’s Colin Clark.
Williams’ embodiment of the legend is highly believable, and yes, seductive. The rest of the movie lacks that same allure; especially with its stale protagonist, Colin. The film’s editing (which can be leaky at times) gives it some panache, but that’s where any sense of attitude ends.
Marilyn gets too caught up being in awe of every scar or glimmering spot on the title-character’s soul. Here, she’s a Greek goddess with the power to enlighten all around her just by being unique herself. And as such a force, she’s beyond our full comprehension. Ultimately, My Week with Marilyn is not a full lesson in the character, but an obscure, high-brow praising of the many traits that make her such a strange on-screen and off-screen character.
With its stuffiness and historical whimsy, My Week with Marilyn somehow becomes even more Masterpiece Theater-like than The King’s Speech. It’s glossy and proper like Olivier. Should it not have more curveball pep, like Monroe herself?
FINAL SCORE: 6/10