Many actresses have portrayed Marilyn Monroe on TV and in film, but none has come close to the absolutely fantastic performance Michelle Williams has crafted.
My Week with Marilyn is a terrifically insightful film anchored by Michelle Williams’ tremendous portrayal of the iconic Marilyn Monroe. Williams gives the best performance of her career (which is saying a lot, considering her strong body of work) as the conflicted, insecure, and manipulative beauty who steals hearts, even today.
The film is based on two memoirs written by Colin Clark, who served as third assistant director on The Prince and the Showgirl, the 1957 film which cast Monroe opposite Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Accordingly, Marilyn focuses on only a brief period ofMonroe’s career, which makes her allure that much stronger. Our hero Colin (Eddie Redmayne) manages to get himself a job on the picture by pulling a few of his family’s very wealthy strings. Initially, he begins a flirtation with Lucy (Emma Watson), one of the costume girls. Once Marilyn makes her appearance on set, though, things change for Colin.
Olivier has agreed to work with Monroe because he believes this picture will make him a movie star (he was the world’s most respected actor at that time, but he craved fame). Monroe believed that working with a true actor like Olivier would force people to see her as a serious actress and not just a walking sexpot. The two performers immediately begin to clash, as Olivier is a creature of the theater and doesn’t spend much time on rehearsal, andMonroehas begun studying Method acting with her coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), which entails deep and extensive preparation. As her already fragile psyche begins to break down, Monroe finds solace in Colin and the two begin a strange and dangerous relationship.
There would be no My Week with Marilyn without Williams. Many actresses have portrayed Marilyn Monroe on TV and in film, but none has come close to the absolutely fantastic performance Williams has crafted. She has mastered Monroe’s voice, walk, and mannerisms, but any half-talented actor could do that. What Williams has done, though, through her extensive research on her subject, is inhabit whoMonroe most likely truly was. She used people around her (especially the young Colin) and made them fall in love with her, assumedly because this was the only time she could feel validation. In Williams, we see a truly tragic character who is unable to simply exist because of the demands associated with being Marilyn Monroe. If Williams does not win an Oscar for Best Actress this year, it will be a shock and a shame.
Credit must be given to director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Adrian Hodges, for both of whom My Week with Marilyn is their first feature film. Extraordinarily, Curtis is able to capture the magic that surroundedMonroe when she was at the height of her career. The entire film bursts with the thrilling feeling that cinema gives those who work on the productions and those who enjoy the final product. Hodges manages to pack a great deal of story into a very short script, relying on both the audience’s prior knowledge ofMonroe and how movies worked at that time. Together, Curtis and Hodges have created a wonderful love letter to filmmaking, oldHollywood, and Marilyn Monroe.
Redmayne gives a very competent performance as the young man whose story we are watching; unfortunately, he is completely upstaged by the supporting cast. Branagh is brilliant as the desperate and egotistical Olivier who just wants to be as famous as the woman he considers only one step above a model. Branagh’s work is hilarious and moving, pretty much making him a lock for Best Supporting Actor nominations. Julia Ormond plays the great Vivien Leigh, who is married to Olivier and forced to watch the younger (and less talented) Monroe play the part she originated on stage. Ormond’s very brief presence is heartbreaking to watch. Most enjoyable to watch, though, is Judi Dench playing Dame Sybil Thorndike, who is endlessly supportive ofMonroeand the struggles she is experiencing.
My Week with Marilyn is a wonderful film that reminds us why we watch movies. Together, Curtis, Hodges, and Williams have made a beautiful homage to cinema that deserves to be seen over and over again. | Matthew Newlin