Film Review / Based on a duo of memoirs by Colin Clark, My Week with Marilyn is a breezy 99-minute look behind the behind-the-scenes making of 1957 picture The Prince and the Showgirl, in which a young Clark lands a tiny assistant job on the highly anticipated Sir Laurence Olivier comedy and an unexpected glimpse into a Hollywood icon’s psyche.
But before seeing, don’t forget that just three seconds ago at the box office you asked for a ticket to My Week with Marilyn, not My Entire Life Spent From Beginning to End Forever and Ever Until Eternity with Marilyn. This film is more a look into a specific time and place in the actress’s life and career than it is an overarching Norma Jeane rise-to-fame storyline oft associated with a conventional biopic, and considerably wiser for it. To reference one of my favorite Marilyn Monroe quotes (because everyone has a favorite, right?): “I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.” All that blind drive, self-belief and raw ambition–this is not a film about that Marilyn.
Instead, we’re pulled under the silky bedridden covers of her paranoia, insecurities and personal pressures brought on by fame following her marriage to third (and final) husband, playwright Arthur Miller, her progression into the Stanislavski-based Actors Studio and a move towards a more disciplined direction in her career. This is five years before her death. The actress is 31 years old.
Enter Michelle Williams, also age 31 and a blonde beauty in her own right. In all areas where Marilyn lacks luster–script, direction, supporting actors–Williams makes up for it in a full and balanced performance of Monroe’s outward charm and inner demons. Like The Prince and the Showgirl itself, she’s entirely the glue that holds every frame together. Without her, Marilyn’s a fairly two-dimensional film made up widely of caricatures–Kenneth Branagh’s Olivier, Dougray Scott’s Arthur Miller and Judi Dench’s Dame Sybil Thorndike. The only semi-compelling supporting character is Zoë Wanamaker as Marilyn’s acting coach and confidante Paula Strasberg. While also admittedly a lampoon, it at least lifts a curtain on the pair’s symbiotic remora-like relationship and casts a cultish shadow on the much-celebrated Method as if it were the original Church of Scientology. As for Eddie Redmayne in the role of Colin Clark, he’s merely present, never a presence. These vanilla performances neutralize everything Williams brings to elevate it, allowing her to glow, but never sparkle. The overall effect: Marilyn is all just very Meh-rilyn Monroe.
To use an optimistic, partially empty descriptor from the ‘50s, Marilyn is a “swell” enough picture, but ultimately a bit forgettable. Monroe was anything but.