‘My Week with Marilyn’ Review (2011)

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My Week with Marilyn review
Michelle Williams and Eddie Redmayne in My Week with Marilyn
Photo: The Weinstein Co.

Despite how well made Simon Curtis’s My Week with Marilyn is, from the acting all the way down to the production design, it feels like such a small piece to a much larger story that I had a hard time remaining all that interested. It serves more as an introduction to Marilyn Monroe rather than a piece that really has anything to say.

Curtis sets out to tell the story of one week of the actress’ life as she takes on a role in Sir Laurence Olivier’s latest feature. Michelle Williams does an excellent job depicting Monroe from her captivating elegance to her borderline neurosis, but I couldn’t help but feel as if I was only seeing an extended piece of a much larger story. And for anyone that knows anything about Monroe, you already know there is much more to tell.

The titular “my” the title is referring to is Colin Clark, played with a wide-eyed, “go get ’em” attitude by Eddie Redmayne as a 23-year-old obsessed with entering the movie business. Fresh out of school and ignoring his parents’ wishes, Colin heads for London and secures his first job as a third assistant director on Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl where he ultimately finds himself as Monroe’s one and only confidant after her husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), leaves the production and heads back to the States.

Growing increasingly frustrated with Monroe’s tardiness and her self-appointed acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) becomes increasingly dependent on Colin as only he can seem to calm Monroe down and ensure she’s ready for the day’s work. Of course, her magnetism and flirtatious attitude has a profound effect on Colin, an effect that soon finds the impressionable young man in love with a woman well beyond his reach.

I don’t have a single complaint about any of the actors involved or even the story as told. Williams as Monroe, Branagh as Olivier and Redmayne as Clark are all excellent. The supporting cast from Wanamaker as Strasberg, Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, Dominic Cooper as Monroe’s business partner Milton Greene and Judi Dench as the always level-headed Dame Sybil Thorndike are all superb. It’s Adrian Hodges’ script based on Clark’s memoirs that feels too small and quite quaint. Instead of being interested in Clark’s week with Marilyn (which actually felt more like three months), you become more interested in Marilyn herself, a subject of which the film only scratches the surface, and perhaps a subject too big for the movies anyway.

On my way home from the theater I couldn’t help but think about how much more I wanted from the story or if they wanted to explore the ups and downs of a film production and the affairs that resulted, why not tell the story of the making of Cleopatra and really have some fun?

Instead, My Week with Marilyn just sort of trots along, serving more as a film for Williams and Branagh to channel Monroe and Olivier than to tell an actual story. The film’s limitations are probably best found when it passingly introduces Harry Potter‘s Emma Watson as Lucy, a wardrobe assistant on the picture Colin takes a shine to before Monroe traps him in her web. It’s a half-baked set up only to muddy the waters instead of actually adding a nuanced layer to the story. Watson does well in a limited role, but it would have been more intriguing had that relationship actually taken shape while Colin was in Monroe’s midst rather than only serving as a brief aside for contrived jealousy and ignorance later on.

Above all else, the one major take away is Williams as Monroe. Meant to be seductive and captivating, Williams is all that. When she’s on screen you pay attention to her and only her. I’ve seen complaints that she doesn’t look like Marilyn, but that’s not an issue as long as she can seduce you like Marilyn and that she does. As an actor’s playground My Week with Marilyn satisfies, but as an overall film it falls short.

GRADE: C+