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by Eric Kohn
October 9, 2011 5:33 AM
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"My Week With Marilyn" Has Charm, But Michelle Williams Can't Do the Subject Justice

Michelle Williams in Simon Curtis' "My Week with Marilyn." The Weinstein Company.

"My Week With Marilyn" is exactly the type of tolerably superficial crowdpleaser that it looks like. Lacking the meaty role she may have hoped for, Michelle Williams delivers an airy interpretation of Marilyn Monroe without digging too deep into the persona. Her one-note performance matches a movie less invested in the reality of the material than style of it, not pulling back the veil on Monroe but smothering it to death with the familiar polish of a tame show business comedy.

[This review was originally published during the 49th New York Film Festival. The Weinstein Company opens "My Week With Marilyn" this Friday, November 25.]

Like Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles," the movie makes an enthusiastic attempt to study classic Hollywood yore from the perspective of a little known crew member. However, "My Week With Marilyn" lacks the same focused wit. Loosely adapted from documentarian and writer Colin Clark's diary-style memoir from the set of the 1956 Laurence Olivier-directed British production of "The Prince and the Showgirl," the story follows the 23-year-old Clark (Eddie Redmayne) as a plucky assistant director on the set who falls for a high maintenance Monroe . While the actress' diva-like manner quickly gets under the skin of her prickly director (Kenneth Branaugh), Clark slowly gains her trust and eventually becomes her closest confidante. Unsurprisingly, he discovers a much sadder person behind the fancy poses and lipstick. However, "My Week With Marilyn" paradoxically takes the form of a simplistic romantic comedy, obscuring the bleak drama at its center. Even when Williams-as-Monroe tears up, the movie maintains an oddly cheerful demeanor.

The prospects of any actress, even a usually dexterous one like Williams, meeting the expectations of the role while moving beyond them makes for a near impossible task. The first feature from British television director Simon Curtis, "My Week With Marilyn" generally takes the form of a screwball comedy based around Monroe's constant unwillingness to play by Olivier's rules by forgetting her lines or dashing off-set in the face of criticism from the director. But the script lands only the most basic laughs, failing to dig into the mystique surrounding its subject. While the movie goes through conventional motions, Williams has little to do save for offering her best Marilyn voice and grin.

Monroe's iconography has merged into a unified identity held together by her entire filmography. In "My Week With Marilyn," however, she's a cheap impression of that personality, whether haplessly seducing the wide-eyed Clark by leading him away from the spotlight to go skinny dipping or feuding with disinterested husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). The running gag about the 30-year-old star's ability to turn Clark into her play thing gets old fast, while a peripheral development involving Clark's romance with a costume girl (Emma Watson) falls by the wayside.

There are a few directions the narrative could take--a shrewder period piece about Monroe, or something more believable involving Clark's close encounter with the dangers of the limelight--and they occasionally stumble into view. The older actresses surrounding Monroe, including a measured Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) and Olivier wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) both provide intriguing contrasts to Monroe's relative inexperience. Clark's ongoing willingness to go against Olivier's wishes and offer counsel to Monroe maintains a certain witty appeal, although the depressed pill-popper he discovers behind closed doors is a fundamentally uninspired interpretation of the actress' notorious addiction. Williams usually does intense better than she does sultry, but the script calls for neither quality in any particularly insightful fashion. "They don't understand you," Clark tells the actress, and neither does "My Week With Marilyn."

criticWIRE grade: C+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? A now-typical awards season bid from The Weinstein Company, "My Week With Marilyn" is bound to land mixed reviews but has enough commercial potential to give it legs for Oscar campaign based around Williams' performance. However, neither the material nor the role are consequential enough to secure her a victory.

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3 Comments

  • Dennis Whetsel | October 20, 2011 5:13 AMReply

    I saw this film in rough cut at a New York preview. I believe much to be superficial rehashing of now age old tale of victim turned victimizer. HOWEVER, Ms Williams does indeed do a fine acting turn as she produces an "essence" not a recreation of one of the most over exposed personalities of the twentieth century. No new insight, but very enjoyable effort sure to be a crowd pleaser. I did very much enjoy this film but I would have liked to have learned something new. The film raises a very interesting question as to how Olivier and Monroe endured the "prince"'s inglorious reception and then went on to achieve their greatest successes. Both sought validation from the other. Strange, but understandable.... The Weinsteins are slick and like it or not this film will be a great success, and Ms. Williams does an admirable job. She deserves much better material.

  • Domi Arcangeli | October 10, 2011 2:44 AMReply

    Well, Thank You, Instead to Confirm what I had Suspected, and especially after reading some very weak, cheap comments referring to a Legend, an Icon and one of the Most Vivid Impersonations of An American Tragedy, still 5o years later, that late Summer 1962, she Apparently Took her life, Disappointed,Irate to a Studio, that even after Formidable Performances, was still Confining her in a Place where she could have a Great Director Like Cuckor,great co-stars like Dean Martin and lovely Cyd Charisse,and more,some few Colorful Sets and Wardrobe, but never Worrying a bit about some Character's Development, which was just what Monroe was begging the Studio to do on the "Something's Got to Give"(1962) Script,and with her still sympathetic character,yet always completely Superficial and Anchored on the Same old Stories, Written for Other Stars, 20 years before.
    No layers, no Insightful moments.. just a Few Fun gags to Exploit the Still Gorgeous Young Lady, who was Tired, not only for being addicted to Pills and Speed(Given her DIrectly by the Studio's Doctor,in order to make her Perform, more Happily, and Quickly for several Hours on a Set, where nobody really truly Respected her.Not Even Cuckor or his Associate and Production Designer of Sets Looking more like those of Ali Baba in some Oriental Dream like Musical Production, than Realistic Places.
    I don't know about that! Maybe It could have even turned into a good comedy, but,Marilyn did not think so,and think She Deliberately Avoiding the Set, not for laziness,or Drugs or Personal Affairs, but for being not Capable to Get a Script she Approved on and Felt Comfortable With after 12 years spent at Fox, making the Studio So Rich, to be able to Afford even enormously expensive Bombs Like Taylor's "Cleopatra", but not even trying to Make Monroe a little happier.
    Back to What I see this new Film it's gonna Look like(unfortunately, since casting was interesting,in fact I love Eddy Redmayne and he's just perfect for that Role,Dominic Cooper's Ambiguity suits the Milton Greene Character,Branagh and Dench were great choices for Olivier and Thorndyke,while Ormond,Scott and others I'm sure will deliver lines with professional Standard!) a very Superficial Vision and portrait of the Actress and Of the Filming of a very Complex Shoot like The Prince and the Showgirl really was, cheapened by a complete Lack of Insight and Interiorization of its Star and Her Colleagues,probably ending up as a Glossy, retelling for The Inquire's Readers of what was instead way more Profound, way more Absolute,and Deep and Profound, Showing the Trouble of a famous Woman, who was a Poet, in a World that would even see only like
    a one note Oblivious Image Fitting her, while Destroying her Mercilessly.
    Even Star's Williams comments on Monroe were insensitive,cheap like it would have been Hearing one of the Girls of THE HILLS or one of those Shows,Talking about Monroe that way,and not those Coming from an Intellectual Oscar Nominated Actress like Michelle.
    She Should know though, that without Monroe there would have been no Williams, cause Ms. Monroe, Fought and lost Her Life in name of the Respect of Actors in General and also of Females Stars in Hollywood,obvious lack of Power over even being a constant winner and one of the Strongest Personality of the 20th Century,
    It is Remarkable that Williams would be so bland in a role this Complex, and instead Posing for Vanity Fair ridiculously trying to look like Monroe. Marilyn was Pure Unique,Almost Painful Beauty in its own Perfection, Williams is just a short,curvy bland white Girl, that can give Astonishing performances with Roles more Like Her,and suiting her, Proving also with her lame Declarations about the Legend MM, that she was Obviously the worst Casting Choice ever for this! But I Guess Hollywood today does not try to do the best, as Monroe,and her colleagues back then always did! Hollywood just tries to sell mediocre, well shot films, with a few marquee names and, No Worry about Anything Else. And once more Disrespecting People like Monroe who Tried hard to make A Change of Pace in Tinseltown. All very Sad.

  • Marilyn Monroe | October 10, 2011 2:19 AMReply

    When critiquing a movie, critics must critique form and content. Not only the latter, otherwise the critique gets subjective to the critic's critique of content without context. When you say, for instance, the script failed to dig into the mystique of it's subject, what you are really saying is your assumption the director and the writer should have done so. Well, what if they chose not to? You're neither the director nor the writer of this movie, you're just a journalist writing about it, and writing bad. Make some research into the production of this movie, don't just blurt out your misguided assumptions. Please, go to NYU library, get the book "Art in the world" and read Susan Sontag's essay "Beyond interpretation." you'll thank me the rest of your life for that.