If you’ve had ambivalent feelings about Marilyn Monroe’s iconic status in our celebrity-driven society, then My Week with Marilyn will cement them one way or the other; you’ll either understand her much-publicized crumbling personality, or you will develop even more contradictory emotions about the real person behind the blond bombshell.
My Week with Marilyn directed by Simon Curtis, is based on Colin Clark’s published diaries “The Prince the Showgirl and Me.” Clark was a young lad who worked as a third assistant director during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl (later titled The Sleeping Prince) starring Sir Lawrence Olivier in London in 1956.
This film hasn’t even opened and is already generating Oscar-worthy performance buzz – and I would agree. A stunning Michelle Williams does an uncanny portrayal of the tormented sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe; from Marilyn Monroe’s kitten-esque voice to her slinky walk, Williams is the main event in this picture. This film is not a biopic of the actress, but offers a snapshot of Monroe at the height of her career.
The movie captures a mere week behind the scenes of her life while married to playwrite Arthur Miller, her third husband, while filming with Sir Lawrence Olivier. In this short time-frame, the film manages to reveal a great deal of what drove the platinum blond to perfection, and at times, to feel and behave completely crazy.
The film revolves around the 23-year-old upper class and Oxford graduate, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who decides to break away from his aristocratic pedigree and leaves the family castle to pursue his passion for films at Sir Lawrence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) Pinewood Productions. Clark camps out for a couple of days on Sir Olivier’s waiting-room sofa after being denied a job, but then proves himself useful by securing a home for Miss Monroe to stay in during filming and is then hired.
What ensues are seven days of a highly unlikely and tumultuous fling between the most famous woman in the world and a naive, but well educated young man.
And this is where fiction meets reality.
At the outset, we are slowly drawn into this true account, wide-eyed and highly skeptical, of the implausibility of this affair so exquisitely crafted in this movie. As the story unfolds, Clark becomes Monroe’s only confidant able to straddle the two worlds she’s thrown into, and apparently the only one who understood the misfortune she encountered during the filming of this movie. Sir Lawrence Olivier’s strong work ethic clashes with Monroe’s spoiled and undisciplined nature, and it’s this divide that provides some of the most vexing as well as comical exchanges in the movie.
Emotions get the best of the cultured Clark, and while he desperately tries to avoid being start struck by courting the wardrobe girl (Emma Watson, Harry Potter), Monroe’s affections reel him into her mysterious world revealing the demons she’s battling; fatherless and lacking familial love, Norma Jean Baker (Monroe’s real name) resorts to pills, temper tantrums, and emotional breakdowns which pierce her fantasy-like romps in the English countryside during the short time she was there.
Two particularly illuminating scenes clearly demonstrate the starlet’s need to be normal, yet unable to set aside the demands and expectations of her adoring fans. On one of their dates Clark uses his family connections and takes Monroe to visit his godfather who works as a librarian at Windsor Castle. During the visit, Monroe spontaneously puts on her signature, sexy stage moves blowing kisses to the staff eliciting approving applause. Later at Eaton College, where the well-bread Clark attended school, she stuns the all-male alumnus with her presence and allows them to surround her while flirtatiously engaging with them.
Williams does a superb job as the blond goddess, and gives us deep insight into the star who could graciously conquer hearts and just as easily break them and not look back; Monroe was warm, delicate and charming one moment, but fragile, unstable and highly insecure the next. She was also just as dependent on her hangers-on as they were on her.
There are instants during the film which both frustrate and infuriate the viewer; Monroe is shown not to be the self-confident, Hollywood icon nostalgically seen in motion pictures — she continually falls apart leaving us shaking our heads in disbelief and questioning why her petulant behavior was tolerated. In other moments of sheer, professionally untrained brilliance, Monroe romances the camera and is able to summon the persona we want her to be, and leaves us longing to see more.
Monroe’s beauty and child-like antics are incarnated in Michelle Williams’ characterization. But the real splendor of this movie is that it exquisitely illustrates the beleaguered soul of a beautiful person who left behind a heart-broken man with an ostensibly unbelievable tale of his week with Marilyn Monroe.
I highly recommend this movie to those who love traditional cinema. It’s also good for the younger generation who’s grown up with posters of Marilyn Monroe, but don’t quite know why she is seared into culture.
My Week with Marilyn is rated ‘R’.
Opens in theaters nationwide November 23, 2011.