Review: My Week with Marilyn

We are most often drawn to two types of great performances: the believable expression of extreme emotions in powerful circumstances and the impersonation. When an actor playing a person for which we have a point of reference convinces our imaginations so completely that this is in fact what the real-life figure was like, we are astounded. 

Yet the challenge of being Marilyn Monroe is something else altogether. Playing Monroe transcends capturing the personality of a global superstar; it’s about embodying pure sex appeal and newly creating her same raw and alluring energy. Throughout the film, various characters comment how they can’t take their eyes off her on screen. This is not something that can simply be engineered in a lab, so to speak. The fact that Michelle Williams recreates Monroe so naturally cannot go understated. Just as the Hollywood icon would to her pictures, Williams so completely changes the aura of “My Week with Marilyn.”

Hollywood’s trend of late to avoid chronological biopics makes a big difference in this film. Colin Clark’s account of his time working on the set of “The Prince and the Showgirl” creates a snapshot of Monroe’s life that gives insight into who she was, but without losing the context of how she is remembered. Told through the eyes of Clark himself (Eddie Redmayne), Monroe remains that enigmatic celebrity to the audience, which makes Williams’ performance all the more captivating.

What a gift Williams is for director Simon Curtis. The two work together to simply mesmerize the audience. As for the intimate moments that take us behind the curtain of Marilyn Monroe, they have a powerful tension as we’re never able to exactly pinpoint who she is at her core. She forever remains a mystery.

The only difficulty with “My Week with Marilyn” is that while Monroe commands the most attention in the film, it’s supposed to be Clark’s story. Redmayne gives the role a nice balance between an ambitious and clever young man a naive boy, but his lesson in love doesn’t hold greater power than trying to understand what’s going on inside the head of Marilyn Monroe.

In addition, the first half of the film focuses on the tension between Monroe and renowned actor Sir Laurence Olivier, played by Kenneth Branagh. Branagh commands the screen almost as well as Williams, so “Act I” is no less interesting than the “Act II” development of Clark and Monroe’s relationship. As Clark perfectly describes it, Olivier at the time wanted to be more of a star and Monroe wanted to be taken more seriously — the opposite of their strengths. Although they don’t come fact-to-face over their issues with one another, the tension runs high.

As that tension shifts to romantic tension when Monroe begins to demand seeing Clark more and more, the on-set conflict never complete dissipates, but it also never holds the same weight. The only constant throughout the film is Marilyn Monroe. Williams never loses her power over the audience. Few performances simply own a film, but this one does.

“My Week with Marilyn” has a strong script, memorable performances, effective direction and that period piece sheen indicative of strong costume work, cinematography and art direction — all the trappings of an award-worthy film. Issues with cohesiveness in the story really hurt it, however, though not enough to question that it’s superbly made.

The way it captures the mystique of celebrity despite peeling back the curtain has no equal, as most films showing us the lives of film or music icons concern themselves with the personal problems and off-screen/stage lives of the main characters. In a scene when Monroe and Clark spend a day together visiting Windsor and they come across photographers, her quiet line to Colin “shall I be her?” captures the mystery of it all, the fine line between the sex symbol who loves being adored and vulnerable girl who would rather be loved.

 

4/5 Stars

 

My Week with Marilyn
Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Adrian Hodges, Colin Clark (book)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson

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