In My Week With Marilyn, Director Simon Curtis attempts to show us the facets of a Marilyn Monroe that reach beyond the voluptuous,”Happy Birthday, Mr. President” cabaret girl, and does so with mixed, often affecting results.
Based on Colin Clark’s memoir titled The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me, My Week With Marilyn tells the story of Clark’s (Eddie Redmayne) brief experiences with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), as he worked as a third director on The Prince and the Showgirl. This film features Marilyn Monroe acting alongisde British acting legend Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who also has the difficult task of directing the constantly tardy Monroe. The movie making experience turns sour, as Monroe’s Stanislavski methods irk the traditional Olivier, and Monroe’s marriage to a much too handsome to be believable Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) begins to crumble. All the while, the young, idealistic Colin begins to form an unlikely bond with the damaged superstar.
My Week With Marilyn brings us an interesting snapshot of Monroe’s career. Upon entering production for The Prince and The Showgirl, Monroe had just come off of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire, giving her the reputation of America’s favourite sex symbol. Although plenty sexy, Monroe was perceived as nothing more than a body, a shimmy, and a Bambi singing voice; needless to say, she wasn’t being called on to do Lady Macbeth. With The Prince and The Showgirl, Monroe had the opportunity to work with her idol, Olivier. Paired with her new marriage to one of America’s most prominent intellectuals, Monroe was on course to be considered more than just a pair of hips and a wink.
But everything goes woefully wrong. The Brit with the classical training would have no time for the Bombshell and her modernist, Stanisklavski methods. While Olivier tried to cling on to Marilyn in order to gain some of her allure as a film star that he so lacked, Marilyn pined for Olivier’s credibility as a serious actor. After the disastrous experience, Monroe went on to her most iconic role in Some Like It Hot, while Olivier would be put off directing for over a decade. Yes, an interesting partnership, indeed.
We are also treated to charming supporting performances by the Oscar season biopic queen Dame Judi Dench, playing not far out of her comfort zone as Dame Sybil Thorndike, and Emma Watson, as a costume mistress entangled in a love triangle with America’s favourite blonde. However, Julia Osmond is woefully miscast as screen and stage legend, Vivien Leigh, whose own personal mental illness is silenced in this film, in favour of displaying Monroe’s own struggles.
The enchanting and delicate Michelle Williams, a.k.a Harvey Weinstein’s go-to girl, plays the title character with as much vulnerability, pout, and insecurity necessary to fill out the legend’s hippy, larger than life figure. However, the script itself offers little beyond the Marilyn snapshots that the world has come to know and fetishize; the coquettish child, unaware of her seductions, the tongue-in-cheek pin-up who “wears nothing to bed but perfume”, and the vulnerable, deeply indulged icon, damaged beyond repair by abandon and addiction. Although we may see these snapshots of Monroe portrayed thoroughly in isolated scenes, there is little to tie the many facets of the icon altogether, to intertwine the photos into a flip-book of tangible and fluid movement, growth, and coherence.
Branagh is utterly fantastic as the pompous, terrified Olivier. His accent is near perfection and his hatred and jealousy of Monroe becomes painfully personal in his struggles to gain international screen appeal. Branagh, who I have never quite known how to forgive after cheating on Emma Thompson, shows Olivier in all of his despicable tantrums, (“Just be sexy! Isn’t that what you do?”), his delicious vulnerability and astonishing gifts as a classical actor. My only complaint is that his marital struggles with the tragic Leigh are only given a minor footnotes of screen time.
Eddie Redmayne is perhaps too handsome to play the Curtis “everyman” character who joins the circus of the motion picture industry. However, his fantasization and fixation on Monroe is palpable and desperate. As an audience, we are transported through his body to long for the Blonde who will always be within arms reach, but made obscured and unattainable by the smoke, mirrors, and many influences of Hollywood. I look forward to Redmayne wearing a manly vest in the highly anticipated film adaption of the hit musical “Les Miserables”.
Overall, Director Simon Curtis offers a soft and well-defined snapshot of Monroe at her most vulnerable. This well-manicured, by the book biopic is slickly beautiful, but a touch unfeeling. Instead of portraying Monroe as a trapped little girl, horrifyingly manipulated by the industry and her addictions, the audience takes Olivier’s lead and becomes exasperated each time she’s late and each time she is careless with a young boy’s heart.
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