Marilyn Monroe is a vacuous, dumb, empty blonde, according to Michelle Williams and director Simon Curtis. I make no claim to knowing Marilyn’s history or personality behind the camera, outside of the bombshell sex object she portrays in front of the camera – and I imagine a host of viewers could claim the very same. If she is this very person then Williams has done an outstanding job at bringing her to life in this most recent adaptation. Then again – dreary, dull and tiresome are not values to aspire to in celluloid. My Week With Marilyn is the film of Colin Clark’s memoir, The Prince, The Showgirl, And Me detailing his week with the girl in question. He’s 3rd Assistant Director on the Sir Lawrence Olivier production, The Prince And The Showgirl, and falls into a tumultuous relationship with the star.
Michelle Williams has been on a career high of late. Blue Valentine marked her as a star to watch and she recently impressed in the otherwise dull Take This Waltz. Here as the great screen siren however, it’s a total miss. Curtis is a very accomplished television director (just check his CV) and this is his film debut. I can see this being a fun telemovie however it becomes less a discussion of what didn’t work, more lets-throw-the-dart-at-the-cork-board-and-see-where-it-hits.
The scenes where they’re filming Showgirl are quite funny – Olivier’s undignified frustration at Marilyn is a great cause for laughter – but it’s the world outside of here that isn’t so successful. Emma Watson’s latest non-Hermione role as the working-girl girlfriend of Colin Clark’s is a complete disappointment. To her credit, it’s not entirely her fault as she’s given limited material to work with however I’ve been looking for her to announce herself post-Potter and it’s unfortunately yet to happen. (All signs point to the latest Sofia Coppola film currently in production as being the breakout.)
Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie) entertains vividly as Sir Laurence Olivier, a role that he clearly relishes throughout the film. It’s as if the film is based around him, as he is far more fun to watch than Marilyn with his many insults and arrogant nature. It’s when he’s watching the rushes that the script debases him though. The whole film we’re to understand he’s a man of celluloid honour yet watching Marilyn Monroe prance around completely lifeless he’s completely amazed by her. This is in despite of his previous tantrums. Obviously he can’t abuse her the entire time as the film needs to lend credence to her star power at the time but it doesn’t feel right. As if Branagh is just reciting lines.
Williams has been choosing powerful roles filled with depth and I imagine on paper, this would have too. And, naturally, I can appreciate an actor wishing to take the opportunity to play such an icon. Her scenes playing Marilyn Monroe are fun admittedly; flirting with the boys and making them all go red. When she’s hiding away from everyone though, the very opportunity to show the great depth of the character, that’s when nothing happens. To be fair, when she is about to break in half I can buy it, but that’s the mode she’s in the entire 90 minutes. Williams is going to have a career full of massive roles though so don’t judge her alone on this.
The dialogue is very thin most of the time, leaving much to be desired. Judi Dench (Quantum of Solace) appears momentarily as the very pleasant and patient Dame Sybil Thorndike and does nothing else. Eddie Redmayne (The Other Boyleyn Girl) isn’t bad as Colin Clark but isn’t great either. His falling in love with Marilyn is easy to understand initially – she’s the biggest celebrity of the time – but after a while you want to shout at the screen for sticking by her because she’s so one dimensional. His previous girlfriend, played by Watson, is far, far more appealing by comparison and it becomes inexplicable why you would leave her for Marilyn, celebrity be damned.
Considering the title of the film and the main character, it’s unfortunate the most entertaining and appealing members are the support cast, especially Branagh. This film needs to wow and mostly it’s a total miss.
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Directed by: Simon Curtis
Written by: Adrian Hodges (screenplay), Colin Clark (books)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh
My Week With Marilyn is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray and VOD. Blu-Ray extras include a directors commentary and a featurette on the life of Marilyn Monroe.