Directed by Simon Curtis
Runtime 99min. - Rated R
4 Stars (out of 4)
Sadly, I know little about the real Marilyn Monroe. I know the obvious things, all the stories that have been portrayed so repetitiously they're embedded into pop culture. But I'm no scholar. I'm familiar with the iconic scenes, but I've never watched one of her films in its entirety. I know that fact devalues my reputation as a movie critic, but there are just so many films to watch. I'm 28 years old and there were innumerable films made before I was even born, many of which are considered classics. About a year ago I vowed to start watching Humphrey Bogart films. Now I've seen all but 3 films he starred in and I've seen many of his supporting roles as well. After watching "My Week With Marilyn", I think I may be forced to take a similar vow. I'll know a lot more about her the next time her name comes up in a review.
I really didn't know anything about this film, except that it had generally positive reviews. I assumed that it was a story revolving around Marilyn Monroe. It's not. The movie is an adaptation of a memoir by Colin Clark. His experiences are the foundation of the story.
Who was Colin Clark? At the beginning of the film he's just a boy with ambition. In the movies, ambition is all it takes to make something of yourself. Clark proves this by spending several hours each day at the office of a movie producer. It's sheer determination that lands him his first job in film. So that he may join the union, Clark gets the title of 3rd assistant director, a title that is less glamorous than it sounds.
"The Prince and The Showgirl" is the film Clark is assisting with. It stars Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Williams). It's a light-hearted romantic comedy, but behind-the-scenes it was all suspense. Olivier and Monroe have totally opposite perspectives on their career. Colin sums it up nicely to Marilyn, "It's agony because he's a great actor who wants to be a film star, and you're a film star who wants to be a great actress. This film won't help either of you."
Olivier is driven to the brink of madness by Monroe's antics. On the days she decides to work, she's usually several hours late. She has a terrible time remembering her lines and often suggests changes to the script. Along with being her co-star, Olivier is the director and he doesn't take criticism well. Marilyn's personal acting coach travels with her and she often ignores the directing of Olivier in favor of her coach's advice. When Olivier does confront her on these issues, she becomes very emotional and ends up leaving the set on several occasions.
Marilyn Monroe is an incredibly deep character. In public, she's the calmest, coolest girl you could ever hope to see. She's got the wit to snap back at any reporter who tries to rattle her. No matter how shaken she might have been moments earlier, she becomes a extra-confident seductress when publicity is at stake.
In the studio, Marilyn isn't nearly as confident. Every little misstep shatters her self-esteem. Her acting coach is constantly assuring Marilyn that she's the greatest actress in the world. Retrieving Marilyn from a backstage meltdown is a daily task for her coach and manager.
Through the majority of the film, Marilyn's life away from movies is a mess. Those who are invested in her keep her sedated with pills and booze. They all seem to realize her emotional and mental anguish, but they only want her to continue working. If that weren't enough, her new husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, is writing about her in an unflattering way. When she finds his journal a confrontation ensues that ends with Miller flying back to America.
Colin Clark is sent to Marilyn's room to search for a script copy. He thinks the room is unoccupied until Marilyn walks out of her restroom in the nude. Marilyn isn't the least bit shy about this and thinks Colin's embarrassment is kind of cute. Once her husband leaves, she begins inviting Colin over for drinks and conversation. His employers threaten to fire him if he becomes too involved, but Marilyn exercises her authority to ensure Colin's employment. At first, he's just her confidant. But like most men, he becomes completely smitten. Unlike most men, she is taken by Colin as well.
It may seem like I've spoiled the whole film, but I promise I left out some secrets. They may not be secrets to hardcore Marilyn fans, but there are some dark elements that may surprise the average viewer.
Michelle Williams did not act in this film. She channeled, conjured up or was possessed by the spirit of Norma Jean. Marilyn was a total enigma who had the most seductively magnetic personality on earth. Williams accurately portrays those traits, especially the magnetic seductiveness. I think much of Marilyn's appeal came from her voice. Her tone suggested a helplessness and curiosity that drove men crazy. Michelle Williams matches her tone and speaking rhythm with great accuracy.
I honestly did not expect to like this film. Biopics and historical dramas have a tendency to bore me when I'm a novice on the subject. Fortunately, I underestimated the entertainment value of the characters. Everyone involved with the film is no less than easily watchable. The characters are lively, spirited people who all mesh well on the screen. I love the fact that this film is full of happy, decent people. When Marilyn is at her worst, they all at least try to help her get well. Sir Laurence Olivier is portrayed as a dictator on set, but even he has good intentions. It's rare to find a good film that has no bad guys. This is one such film.