Michelle Williams loses herself as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn
Marilyn Monroe remains to this day the epitome of sex appeal and charisma. That blond bob and those red lips have become iconic and anyone who tries to pull Monroe’s look today is automatically charged as gimmicky and fake. She was fierce and sexy onscreen. Every man wanted her, and every woman wished she was her. But despite all the confidence she exhibited in films and interviews, Monroe’s private life was far from glamorous.
Director Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn recounts the production process behind The Prince and the Showgirl. Monroe shot the flop with Sir Laurence Olivier (a conniving, yet heartwarming and funny Kenneth Branagh) in Britain in 1957. The film is based on Colin Clark’s diary The Prince, the Showgirl and Me, and has been said to stray quite a bit from the book itself.
Colin Clark (played by a charming Eddie Redmayne) is an ambitious young man, committed to getting a job in Sir Laurence Olivier’s production company. Olivier hires him as the third director’s assistant of production for his new movie, starring “the most famous woman in the world” – the ravishing Marilyn Monroe (a pitch-perfect performance by Michelle Williams). This is basically every boy’s dream and it’s a delight to watch young Colin and every man involved with the production of the film get tongue-tied at the very sight of her.
However, as soon as shooting begins it is Marilyn who is often tongue-tied and unable to deliver her lines, driving Olivier crazy. She insists on bringing her acting coach, Paula Starsberg (Zoe Wanamaker), and shows up late. Williams is ingenious at showing that insecure side of Monroe, the side that no one could see from just watching her movies. She wanted to be a “great actress,” but all she was ever remembered as was a sex goddess. “Can’t you just be sexy? Isn’t that what you do?” Olivier snaps at her.
During the week she spends shooting the film, Marilyn’s husband, famous playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) leaves to go see his children and she is left alone, a feeling Monroe spent her entire life fighting. “Why are the people I love always leaving me?” she pleads to Colin whom she befriends, and who falls in love with her (no surprise here). The film tries to show that perhaps she fell in love with him too. Or it can be trying to simply convey the idea that Monroe felt lonely most of the time, and felt unloved and rejected. “I’m going to fall in love with you. Because I always, always do,” the character she plays in The Prince and the Showgirl tells Olivier.
As a whole, My Week with Marilyn is a well acted, well written film. It is not the best of the year, but Michelle Williams’ performance is. As Monroe, she completely escapes in her skin and is unrecognizable, not only because she’s got the look to play the part, but because she nailed down Monroe’s inner insecurities and outer charm.
There isn’t much of a plot; the movie is more like a documentary about the production of one of the greatest flops ever made, starring two of the greatest movie stars. “This film wouldn’t benefit either of you,” Colin tells Monroe. Williams is a scene-stealer, and even the great Judy Dench (who plays Dame Sybil Thorndike) can’t cast a shadow over her. It takes real talent to be able to completely disappear into a character – especially if that character is so well known and so embedded in the public imagination, even over 40 years after her death. The only other female performance in competition with Williams’ this year is the great Meryl Streep’s incarnation of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. And that’s saying a lot.
When Monroe starred in a film, it didn’t matter how bad the writing was or what the story was. She always managed to steal the spotlight. My Week with Marilyn is an homage to that very phenomenon. There’s no doubting that all eyes are on Michelle Williams.