My Week With Marilyn
Directed by: Simon Curtis
Written by: Adrian Hodges (screenplay), Colin Clark (books)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench
The most poignant moment in My Week With Marilyn comes and goes so quickly that the viewer will soon be sedated back into the confines of its unchallenging, riskless story. Ms. Monroe (Michelle Williams), gliding down a staircase clutching her flavor of the week (Eddie Redmayne), turns to him as she sees a crowd forming and says, “Shall I be her?”
“Her” of course is the Marilyn Monroe that burned into the screen and the collective imagination of the world in the mid-20th century; the suit of armor that a deeply insecure, troubled woman named Norma Jean donned to deal with that fame. My Week With Marilyn is sadly less concerned with moments like these than it is in ultimately keeping that shroud of secrecy over Monroe.
This is done largely by filtering her experience through that of Colin Clark (Redmayne), whose presence turns the movie into more of a quirky love story than a conventional biopic. Of course following the romance mold merely gives the film another set of conventions to follow, and under the watchful eye of mega-producer Harvey Weinstein the director Simon Curtis never really does anything with the camera but rapidly follow the two temporary lovebirds.
Williams’ performance is good within these constraints, but it’s not really a portrayal of Monroe as it is a talented actress giving life to a caricature. Less can be said of Redmayne’s performance, which is mostly just sparkling eyes and looks of complexity. Telling this story of Monroe’s diva moments during the production of Sir Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) The Prince and The Showgirl through Clark’s eyes is the movie’s greatest mistake. It turns Monroe into a manic pixie dream girl, using her as a prop to get Clark to fulfill his dreams.
Clark is of course warned at every turn that falling in love with Monroe is dangerous, though Olivier eggs him on when their fling gets her to show up and perform meltdown-free. Branagh’s inspired performance as Olivier is a treat, as are the nostalgia-laden segments where the director yells “Cut it here” after a take. They are using actual film.
Clark sees her for the first time like so many did, singing and dancing while projected from that celluloid onto a screen. That opening scene shows him watching her bewildered and then takes us to her actual performance rendered in crystal-clear digital. Had Monroe existed in the digital age, her penchant for melodrama off-camera would have been much cheaper if no less exasperating.
The movie is more exhausting than Monroe by the end, despite its rather short duration. Weinstein’s coddling may have earned it Oscar nominations, but like The Iron Lady it was more a means to a prestigious end than a creative one. Cameos from Judi Dench and Emma Watson as well as Monroe’s shadow Paula (Zoë Wanamaker) hint at a movie that could’ve told a fresher story.
Fresh is not exactly in Mr. Weinstein’s playbook, though. The Weinstein Company tapped into the nostalgia trend with this film, The Artist and The Iron Lady, releasing and marketing them at crucial Awards season periods. When there are awards to be had, you must pluck historical figures out of the past and mold them to your purposes.