By Linc Leifeste | November 22, 2011
Director: Simon Curtis
Writers: Adrian Hodges, Colin Clark (books)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Dougray Scott, Zoë Wanamaker, Toby Jones, Philip Jackson
Marilyn Monroe is such an iconic figure that even someone like me can feel like I know her in some way, someone like me being a person who hasn’t watched a single film graced with her stunning presence. That’s right, and I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve never even seen Some Like It Hot. That said, I’ve seen and heard her sexily sing “happy birthday, Mr. President” and coyily try to hold down her skirt as it’s being blown up by a stream of air countless times, along with being endlessly (and happily) bombarded with other clips, pictures and sounds over the years, such that I feel like her image and persona are indelibly stamped on my brain. I don’t know all of the details of her short, tragic biography (of which this movie only covers a short period) but I do know this: Michelle Williams, in an Oscar-worthy performance, perfectly captures the essence of Marilyn Monroe in all her gorgeous, tragic, sexy, cunning, naive, damaged and vulnerable glory.
While Williams’ performance is definitely Oscar-worthy, I can’t say the same for My Week With Marilyn, a pedestrian minor movie centered around the making of a minor movie (1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl) by first-time feature film director Simon Curtis. The story centers around young aspiring-filmmaker Colin Clark’s (Eddie Redmayne) big break landing the job of third assistant director to Director Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and his subsequent experiences with Monroe. While Redmayne gives a solid performance, he isn’t given much to work with as Clark’s story, while probably fairly factually reliable, is presented in a cliche-riddled fashion. Fresh-faced youth shows grit and determination in the face of parental disapproval, combining an “aw shucks” naivety with cunning beyond his years to achieve his dreams against all odds. You probably get the picture as it’s one you’ve likely seen endless times before.
Where the film shines is when the focus turns on the making of The Prince and the Showgirl and the clash that ensued between old professional theater-trained British acting royalty and aspiring Hollywood method-acting youth, particularly in the endlessly fascinating love/hate relationship between acting legend and director Olivier and movie star Monroe. Already addled by pills and wracked by insecurity, Monroe persistently arrives late to shoots, continually fumbles lines and consistently leaves the set in a panic with acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) always waiting in the wings to whisper in her ears, much to Olivier’s dismay. In one of the film’s better moments of dialogue, we’re succintly told how these two have found themselves in this dismal situation: Olivier is a great actor who wants to be a great movie star and Monroe is a great movie star who wants to be a great actor. Unfortunately, The Prince and the Showgirl isn’t the right vehicle for either to achieve their goal.
Williams’ dynamic performance manages to perfectly capture the complexity of Monroe’s achingly beautiful and heartbreakingly tragic character. In Monroe’s various relationships and interactions in the film we see the multi-faceted nature of her personality. In her role with husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) we see the insecure victim of men’s desire, in her interactions with the British media and public we see the movie star persona, and in her role with Clark we see both her sensitive and manipulative traits. It’s a shame such a mesmerizing performance had to be contained within such a lackluster film but the performance is so strong that the film is ultimately redeemed by it.