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Review: My Week with Marilyn (2011)

My Week with Marilyn (2011)

Directed by: Simon Curtis

Premise: An adaption of Colin Clark’s memoir. Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the third assistant director on the set of the 1957 romantic comedy The Prince and the Showgirl, has a short-lived romance with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).

What Works: The characters of My Week with Marilyn come to life in a very real and unique way. This picture presents a complex understanding of the way desire clouds judgment and the performances by Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, and Kenneth Branagh make this work. Redmayne plays Colin Clark and the young actor is very good in the role. His wide-eyed stares and earnest demeanor conveys naivety but not stupidity and even when the young man does some foolish things the actor makes those decisions believable and even empathetic. Redmayne is contrasted by Kenneth Branagh as Sir Lawrence Olivier, the director and lead actor of The Prince and the Showgirl. Branagh’s Olivier is cold, cynical, and even lascivious but his impatience is understandable and he is both a competitor with Redmayne in the pursuit of Monroe and a source of wisdom. But it is Michelle Williams’ performance as Marilyn Monroe that really holds this film together. When actors take on biographical roles of people as well recognized as Marilyn Monroe, there is always a risk that the portrayal becomes an imitation like that of a Saturday Night Live skit. The whole point of dramatizing a public figure is to get at the person beneath the public persona and when a dramatic performance becomes a comic imitation it instantly kills the film. Thankfully, Michelle Williams finds the humanity of Marilyn Monroe and her portrayal of the actress is hard to pin down. At times she comes across as a blonde bimbo but at other moments Williams’ reveals insecurity and self-awareness that are antithetical to the pin-up image. That tension between the real and the fantastical is central to what My Week with Marilyn is reaching for and Williams’ performance does the most to get it there.

What Doesn’t: My Week with Marilyn falters when Monroe and Clark share the frame. Just as the presence of Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl outshines everything else on screen, Michelle Williams’ performance as the famous starlet overwhelms the film. My Week with Marilyn is ultimately Colin Clark’s story but the filmmakers are clearly more enraptured by the mystery and glamour of Marilyn Monroe, and so his story is given a backseat and the picture does not capture the romance and heartbreak of Clark’s experience. That is too bad because this film has at its center some very interesting conflicts: Clark falls for someone he cannot have and Monroe is torn between her insecure self and her glamorous image. My Week with Marilyn falls short in extrapolating those conflicts into a meaningful narrative: the film does not reveal anything new or particularly interesting about love or celebrity and none of the plot twists in the story are much of a surprise.

Bottom Line: My Week with Marilyn is a fairly good Hollywood story with some very good performances by the lead actors. The plot does not hold many surprises and the main thesis of the story gets bungled but Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, and Kenneth Branagh make the film worth viewing.

Episode: #370 (January 1, 2012)