Though she’s been gone for 40 years, Marilyn Monroe is still a polarizing pop culture icon. Younger generations may not completely understand just how massive her stardom was at the time. Far from a biopic, My Week With Marilyn is the true story of one young man who was lucky enough to spend one week as the closest confident to the most famous woman in the world, for better or worse.
Colin Clark just graduated from university and was looking to pave his own way, without the assistance of his wealthy and well-connected family (though he certainly makes no qualms with exploiting his family’s relationship to Vivian Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier). Colin trots off to London at the age of 23 to land a job on the new Olivier picture, The Prince and the Showgirl. The film, to Olivier, was meant to propel his star power in the pictures back to prominence, and would be Marilyn Monroe’s first real “respectable” film role.
From the first minute, Marilyn’s involvement in the production is troublesome. She’s consistently late to set, oddly projects her problems with new husband Arthur Miller onto other situations, refuses to do anything without her acting coach (Paula Strasberg), and regularly reverts to a shell of childlike proportions. Only from the goading of young Colin is she able to be the star she was born to be. Seeing Colin as a confidant, she whisks him away from the set and uses him as her personal guide to England, while not so subtly crossing the line of playing with the young man’s heart.
My Week With Marilyn has already built up a lot of buzz over Michelle Williams’ portrayal of the troubled starlet. The performance is fantastic and much more than just a shadowed recreation of the public’s visual archetype of Monroe. Yet, I see people falling in love with the film based solely on the performance, bringing high praise to flawed work. Just as everyone was once mesmerized by Marilyn to the point where they were willing to accommodate her controversy, people will be totally engaged with Williams’ portrayal and love the film.
The cast is a who’s who of British film royalty and young up-and-comers. Recognizable faces appear for a total screen time of about 40 seconds (taking my mind away from the film wondering why Jim Carter would be cast as a throw away bartender, or if it’s necessary to hire Derek Jacobi to play a castle librarian for 10 seconds.) I adore these actors and love seeing them, but it seems all so frivolous. Emma Watson makes her first appearance in a big film outside of the Harry Potter series to play the wardrobe girl Colin first falls for. She allows for some minor morality plays to be made, but ultimately is a pointless character that may have existed in real life, but brings nothing worthy to the story, and is merely another distraction.
While being a retelling of an almost unbelievable story that sounds like something someone tells you at the company water cooler, the film seems to take the stand that, with all her flaws, Marilyn was just a natural born talent that could take your breath away. It was the case, but do I need this story to tell me that? This was never meant to be a biopic, but I still feel empty from the film’s lack of a stance on her life. It plays to all sides that were, or could have been. She is portrayed as the victim one minute and the manipulator the next, but only for brief moments before going back to the clear stance that her stardom is glorious.
Most of the world would jump at the chance to spend even one hour with a celebrity they idolize, and My Week With Marilyn is the filmed version of one man who got just that chance. But beyond that, the film doesn’t have much more to offer. Funny and charming, it holds its own beyond Williams’ eye-catching work, but it leaves too much flapping in the wind to be considered much of anything else.
Matthew Schuchman is the founder and film critic of Movie Reviews From Gene Shalit’s Moustache (http://shalitsstache.com). Also the contributing film writer for IPaintMyMind (http://ipaintmymind.org) he has no issue tearing apart and analyzing any film, even children’s movies.