REVIEW: My Week with Marilyn [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 99 minutes | Release Date: November 23rd, 2011 (USA)
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director(s): Simon Curtis
Writer(s): Adrian Hodges /
Colin Clark (books My Week with Marilyn and The Prince, the Showgirl and Me)

“Let’s say I sleep in nothing but Yardley’s Lavender”

After the all awards season hoopla, I guess I expected more from My Week with Marilyn. My favorite kind of bio pic—depicting a finite amount of time in a famous person’s life rather then the full duration—it’s interesting that I find it closest in alignment to one that’s not. Much like my excitement to watch La vie en rose post-Oscar win for Marion Cotillard, I really wanted Simon Curtis‘ film to strike a cord with its microcosm look inside Marilyn Monroe‘s life. Rather than astound with story, however, the whole never adds up to anything but a showcase for some wonderful performances. None are as flashy or exacting as Michelle Williams‘ blonde bombshell, but the nuanced look behind the scenes of a major motion picture and the stressful reality of working with the volatility of celebrity almost makes the lack of a memorable plot forgivable.

Portraying the production of The Prince and the Showgirl, Adrian Hodges‘ script adapts the memoirs of third assistant director Colin Clark‘s first job in show business and his smitten love with its starlet. Hired for his tenacity and as a favor of studio head Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), Clark (Eddie Redmayne) finds himself turning from low-man gopher into confidant for the tumuluous hurricane of emotions that was Monroe. On set in England in search of being taken seriously as a real actress, Marilyn arrives with acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) and a crippling fear of failure. Olivier wants her youth and beauty to reinvigorate his image and career—displacing lover Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) despite her creating the role on stage—but the struggle it takes to just get her punctually on set makes him wonder if he’ll ever want to direct again.

And while this back and forth between talent and director is the best part of the film, it isn’t its driving force. What we are supposed to become invested in is the subtle romantic tryst between Monroe and Clark: a burgeoning love breaking through the turmoil of increased emotions and harsh words between opposing sides of the production. Recently married to Arthur Miller—her third husband—life is not all roses for Marilyn and a telling line later in the film about everyone leaving her once they discover she isn’t “Marilyn Monroe” helps explain her fragile state. We learn about her inadequacies, the yes-men surrounding her, and the rough upbringing of never knowing her father and watching as her mother was sent away to an asylum.

We pity her and our hearts pour out to her plight, but it’s hard not to think, “Suck it up and go to work.” Williams captures the vulnerability, love of the spotlight, and abject horror when faced with the overwhelming sense of being forced to be someone she is not. It’s as though the world is against her and only young Colin Clark is able to see through the fame and fortune to touch the little girl trapped within the voluptuous body. He speaks his mind, remains honest at every turn, and tells the actress that both she and Olivier are using each other for their own gains in a picture unworthy to do so. This is the albatross they must bear; they must soldier on to see it through and move onto better things—Monroe to Some Like It Hot and Olivier a stageplay to give him some of the best notes in his career.

The sad truth, however, is that I really don’t care about Colin Clark. Redmayne plays the role perfectly, but the age isn’t young enough for the affair to be scandilous and the romance itself is barely more than a friendship. So why should we care? Yes, it was a seminal moment in the real Clark’s life, but to Monroe it’s just a blip like any of her career’s other rough psychological sojourns. A costume designer named Lucy (Emma Watson) is thrown in the mix to try and show Clark as more than any other Hollywood man jumping to the next best thing, but the honest truth is that we never expect anything to happen between them anyway. He has Marilyn’s eye; why wouldn’t he jump at the chance?

Williams is the star of the show and does earn her accolades despite the role being another example of the industry impersonating one of its own. Branagh is a treat as Olivier, but the role is too tiny to say he shone brighter than the rest. To me Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike is the most noteworthy supporting player considering her uniquely compassionate relationship with co-star Monroe on the picture. A veteran who understands the struggles of stardom and the rigors of acting, she can objectively see that Marilyn wants nothing more than to succeed. Dench tries her hardest to wedge herself between the actress and director Olivier because he doesn’t comprehend how his star is more than the sexy girl looking sexy he assumes she is.

In this respect, My Week with Marilyn is a nice glimpse at an enigma the world fell head over heels in love with. We see behind the curtain of the life Monroe led and believe the tragic end soon to befall her. Above this history lesson, however, the entertainment level of watching she and Clark sneak around while he becomes the only person able to get her on set to finish the film—yes, they do have a job to complete—falls prey to monotony. There’s simply too much about a character I personally had little interest in and not enough of the real draw. By putting Williams’ Monroe in the background, the story does itself a disservice. I guess there isn’t much else they could have done, though, since Clark wrote the tale from his experiences and therefore is the focal point.

[1] Michelle Williams
[2] Emma Watson & Eddie Redmayne
[3] Kenneth Branagh

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