I have very little to say about My Week With Marilyn. That, I realize, is also the most accurate reflection of my stance on the film.
Yes, Michelle Williams is good as Marilyn Monroe. Yes, the film has a quaint and whimsical charm to it. However, it is also very slight. It is the cinematic equivalent of a trifle pudding, except it’s not as good. The film is about a week-long encounter a character has which remains entrenched in his mind forever. Ironically, the film is so forgettable that it began slipping out of my memory a few hours later itself.
Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne), a young university graduate who’s in love with the world of cinema, desperately wants to work with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). By fortuitous navigation he lands the job of third Assistant Director on Olivier’s next film, The Prince and the Showgirl, which is set to mark his eagerly anticipated collaboration with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). When the blonde bombshell arrives for shooting, she throws all of London into a tizzy. Sir Laurence is gradually frustrated by her many demands and never-ending tantrums. Surprisingly, she takes a liking to Colin and lets him into her inner world, where he gets to be witness to her struggle with her fame, her beauty and her wish to be a great actress.
My Week With Marilyn‘s problems begin early – namely, with Adrian Hodges’ unremarkable script. The film’s screenplay, which is milquetoast and by-the-numbers, doesn’t offer any profound insight into Marilyn’s character and/or why she is the way she is. It doesn’t offer a fully realized arc for Colin’s infatuation with Marilyn. We believe that he falls in love with her because that’s what we are supposed to believe, not because the script accomplishes that on its own.
If Hodges’ script is pedestrian, then Simon Curtis’ (making his feature film début) direction is sadly workmanlike too. My Week With Marilyn‘s direction isn’t cinematic as much as it is stagey. It flits awkwardly between genial comedy to portentous foreshadowing of tragedy (which never really materializes) while also making detours for Profound Scenes of Intimate and Enlightening Discussion. As a result, it doesn’t mesh into a cohesive whole. The film has been criticized by many critics for resembling a Lifetime made-for-TV movie and it’s easy to see why. The entire attempt is a bit too modest in all its ambitions.
The cast, across the board, gives performances of a caliber the movie doesn’t deserve – or stand up to. Michelle Williams has been in the limelight for her portrayal of Marilyn for what seems like ages now, and I’d say it’s deserved. While one can argue endlessly on the relative merits of Michelle’s Marilyn compared to the real iteration, it is unnecessary. For example, I don’t find Michelle as attractive as Marilyn – which is why I found some of the fawning over her a little hard to swallow – but that’s a minor quibble. What matters is that the Marilyn Monroe Michelle Williams creates is a complete person in and of herself. She hits just about every note of the performance right, be it the naïve wonder child or the befuddled star just trying to act or the effortless charmer.
I was, however, just as much (if not more) impressed by Kenneth Branagh’s performance. His Olivier is a lot of fun to watch, and even easier to sympathize with. His exhaustion with Marilyn’s irrationality - he never signed up for all these whims and fancies – is something Branagh gets across very well. Plus, it helps that he is extremely funny when the situation calls for it. I also liked Eddie Redmayne’s work. As Colin Clark, Eddie has to play the Straight Man just caught in the midst of all the antics going on around him, and he does that adeptly. He depicts the feeling of being awed by someone so larger than life quite well. Emma Watson was the other standout of the cast for me. She has a very tiny role – and very few scenes – in which she has to make an impact. That she does so adroitly (I actually felt sorry for her by the end) itself displays how nice a job she’s accomplished.
The technical aspects of the film are decent enough. The sets, the costumes and other elements detailing the period are handled adequately. I am particularly fond of Ben Smithard’s cinematography. While lacking in individually iconic shots, the entire film has a very pleasing look to it that just gets the whimsical feel it’s obviously aiming for.
It may have seemed so at some points in the review, but I didn’t hate - or even dislike – My Week With Marilyn. In fact, I had a pleasant enough time watching it. It’s just the sheer disposable nature of it that I have a problem with. The movie may be limp but the cast is luminescent. See it – if you want to – for their excellent work.
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Photo Credit: BBC Films and the Weinstein Company