REVIEW: My Week with Marilyn

Marilyn Monroe was a unique and irreplaceable breed of human. Not only did she possess the unequalled natural ability to be both intoxicated as a sexual goddess whilst also maintaining a sense of child-like innocence (the simplest reasons men were magnetized) but she surfaced at a period in American history where a presence like hers could rise to level of unmatchable icon status. Simon Curtis’ film, My Week with Marilyn, attempts to shrink this aura down to a thimble-sized survey of the kind of life this tragic figure lead, out in the open and behind closed doors.

My Week with Marilyn really isn’t about Marilyn Monroe so much as it is about a young man named Colin Clark, a budding filmmaker, who unexpectedly ran into Marilyn’s orbit for one week. The week, one that watched young Colin swoon for the blond bombshell, was to change the man’s life though it probably was dusted off and forgotten by Monroe by the time she went back to America. The ancillary elements of the plot are that Marilyn was making, or trying to make, a picture directed by Sir Laurence Olivier. The setting of England thrusts the naïve actress into a lion’s den of royal rigidity where art is not taken lightly. In England, unlike America, one cannot rest on their looks alone but must be invested in the nuances of the craft. At least that’s what the surface tells us. Yet, My Week with Marilyn reveals that even within this hyper-serious atmosphere, Monroe’s natural charms are intoxicating.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe attempts to expose the most natural shades of the actress. She was, after all, a human like everyone else. Williams plays Norma Jean, the innocent, ill-educated, and ultimately naïve girl who has created a persona that is more desirable than any other in the world. The conundrum for this performance is that Williams is playing a character playing a character playing a character. Yet within all these textures Williams also needs to play that wounded human side, numbed by drugs, hidden by sleep, and playful like a small child in the bathtub. Williams worked with every ounce of her incredibly talented being to bring the complexities of this human to life. For what’s possible in this type of role, she is marvelous. Sadly, nobody could ever truly capture who Marilyn was inside and out and, thus, the choice to play Marilyn as a drugged child always “Ten feet underwater” fails to magnetize the viewer as effectively as Marilyn clearly magnetized everyone in her path.

The writing barely stands up against the weight of its enormous task. This is a vehicle for Williams as Marilyn, yet, the overall story actually wants to be about a relatively unknown young man named Colin Clark. As such, it’s difficult to engage with a non-existent plot. To Williams’ credit, when she’s on screen the film comes to life, if for no other reason than to watch what surprise she has in store next. This aspect of the movie, however, is also precisely it’s problem. When Williams isn’t on screen you can hardly bear to watch. Colin Clark is a wooden character whose only real assets are his natural good looks and the fact that he’s ignorant enough to fall for Marilyn. Without Clark, Marilyn might not have been able to finish the picture, so he’s more a useful character than a genuinely engaging one.

About midway through the film, Clark tells Monroe that Olivier is an “actor who wants to be a movie star” and Monroe is a “movie star who wants to be an actor.” This concept almost nails what is actually a thematically compelling part of the picture. Sometimes craft, smarts, form, devotion and rigidity of art form can only take a person so far. If you are born with the natural ability to draw people into your person then that certain un-teachable skill will always rise to the top. For all their spectacular abilities, people like Vivien Leigh and even Laurence Olivier were not gifted with the un-learnable aura that Marilyn Monroe was. She can walk into a room and light it up, even if she forgets all her lines and bumps into all the furniture. Unfortunately, the film asserts this idea without being able to allow the story to bring it out. Never did I really feel as enraptured with Marilyn as I thought I was supposed to be. Williams left me curious and intrigued but she never won my heart as easy as she wins those in the story. The problem is that Williams understood that beneath all this natural beauty and talent was still a person just like you or I. Unfortunately, that human is far more annoying and difficult than she is exciting to watch. My Week with Marilyn might leave you seeing the starlet as obnoxious and immature without having much a reason for all this whining.

Filled with potential and lead by a difficult performance by one of today’s brightest actress’s, My Week with Marilyn had the legs to be a significant portrait of Marilyn Monroe. However, the film is lost in its own plot trappings and doesn’t ever really figure out entirely what it wants to be. The results are occasionally fascinating and some of the themes have potential to evoke serious deliberation. Unfortunately, very few moments really represent the themes any better than direct dialogue does. Williams, as Monroe, can’t find the ability to play both the human Norma Jean side while flipping the switch and also playing Monroe in all her magnetism. Williams deserves every bit of acclaim she will get for having the courage to challenge herself with this role. With a better script and a more focused plot, Williams may have knocked this out of the park. As it stands, My Week with Marilyn is too light to be anything special and too scattered to make its central performance stand out.

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