My Week with Marilyn… Spectacular Meets Droll

By theredraylives | February 26, 2012

My Week with Marilyn
dir. Simon Curtis
Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Judy Dench, Eddie Redmayne
Three and a half out of Five Stars

Like so many awards season films, My Week with Marilyn is a confounding mixture of fantastic performances and muddled cinema. The performances make the entire film, but the plot itself is really rather uninteresting and bland. Everyone already knows that Marilyn Monroe was the most famous woman in the world, everyone knows how beautiful but troubled she was. It then falls to Simon Curtis to create a film out of a brief slice of her life that somehow captures her, captures the sense of making The Prince and the Showgirl, and captures Monroe’s ability to captivate. The film does great service to its characters, but were this a film about anyone but Monroe it would be a colossal dud- and this is where it fails.

My Week with Marilyn follows Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), third assistant director on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, which teamed Marilyn Monroe with the legendary Laurence Olivier (the captivating Kenneth Branagh). During that time Clark- a nobody- meets the newly-married Monroe and her husband, Arthur Miller (the author of one of the greatest modern-day masterpieces). Tensions mount on set, Olivier is driven to near-madness trying to manage the film with Monroe, and all the while Colin falls under Monroe’s enchanting spell- though reality (and others around her) warn him of the impending doom, he forges ahead anyway, and ends up at the end of his storied week with a broken heart (and losing Emma Watson, which is its own punishment many times over).

As plots go, Colin’s isn’t very entertaining to watch, nor is it very interesting. As an audience, we know that Monroe didn’t run off into the English countryside with a 3rd A.D., and Redmayne’s smitten, puppy-love performance isn’t all that endearing (regardless of how much truth is in the telling). In fact, when he’s on-screen- even with Monroe- the scenes are eye-rolling at best. As previously stated, were this a film about Colin Clark falling in love with Random Girl 7, it would be an absolute bore from beginning to end.

What saves it, then, are the fantastic performances of Branagh and Michelle Williams. As Olivier, Branagh is excellent (and Academy-Award nominated). He somehow manages to avoid taking the role over the top, instead choosing to directly focus on Olivier’s desire to get the film made and his frustrations over Marilyn’s set antics. One never doubts him for a minute, and as Olivier he exudes power, but whenever Monroe is on the screen with him he almost tries to fight for his star to shine brighter. The supporting cast is, for the most part, just sort of there- excluding Dame Judy Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, who helps to comfort the unsettled and nerve-wracked Monroe as she works on the film. She is fantastic, and commands immediate respect the moment she steps on-screen.

The supporting cast and the plot are merely accessories to the main attraction- to Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. As someone who didn’t follow Monroe’s career, this reviewer can’t pretend to say that Williams got it exactly right, so let’s leave that to the film historians. That said, Williams plays Monroe here with such beauty, strength, fear, and innocence that one cannot help but get lost in her performance (which she won a Golden Globe for, and is also up for Oscar). She becomes Monroe in every frame, drawing one in with her powerful characterization. She doesn’t simply look pretty or focus on one aspect of Monroe’s storied and tragic career- she allows the entire thing to envelop her and pours it out on-screen in every frame. Certainly a difficult role to play for any actress, but Williams throws herself into it and does it effortlessly. This is acting at its best, and judging by her resume of late, Williams is only getting better.

Ultimately, the film is about Monroe, and no one is going to see the film for any other reason. If only it could have been in a better film. As the lead, Redmayne isn’t all that engaging, and his naïvety grows thin rather quickly. It may be that the history has already been written, but his pursuit of Monroe, falling for her, and wanting to take her away from everything- they are utterly meaningless at the beginning as well as the end. One can’t help but wish that Williams had played Monroe in a much better film about her, but for now, she gets to be a diamond among the (mostly) rough. Three and a half out of Five Stars.

By Nicholas Haskins

If you haven’t, you can check out the trailer. For a bit of fun, also check out the trailer for The Prince and the Showgirl here! Please check out this and other reviews over at my examiner.com page. Want to become my fanboy/girl? You can follow me on Twitter or book my face, and you can subscribe to my reviews. In just about six hours I’ll be live-blogging the Oscars right here on Black Entertainment USA… please join me! “I like how you can compliment and insult somebody at the same time, in equal measure.”

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