My Week with Marilyn

© 2011 Ray Wong

Anything about Marilyn Monroe is bound to be fascinating since she was such a fascinating creature. But behind her fascinating public persona, there is no secret that she was a mess. My Week with Marilyn offers a candid behind-the-scene look at one of the brightest stars in history.

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is an ambitious young man (with British pedigree) determined to make it into the film business. Through personal network and perseverance, he begins his career working for Sir Laurence Olivier's production as a third assistant director. Lucky for him, his first movie was The Prince and the Showgirl starring Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).

Colin starts to pursue a wardrobe girl, Lucy (Emma Watson) while trying to fit in at the production where everyone treats him like a naive kid. But when Marilyn shows up, Colin's world changes. At first, everyone is in awe with her, of course. But as they realize what a mess she is -- she's always late; she's insecure; she is emotionally unstable; she acts like a frightened child -- and the production is being delayed, their patience, especially Olivier's, is wearing thin.

Marilyn is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, especially after her husband Arthur Miller returns to America to see his kids. Colin's apparent lack of judgment of her impresses her, and she finds confidence in him. Meanwhile, Colin falls madly in love with the movie star. For one week, Marilyn and Colin become very close. With Colin, Marilyn is able to let her guard down and show her vulnerability without feeling scared of who she really is, and not the movie star everyone expects.

Michelle William (Blue Valentine) is a revelation here. She's always been a good actress, having earned a few Oscar nominations in her relatively young career. But playing Marilyn Monroe, one of the most iconic personalities in the world? It's possibly one of the most challenging endeavors on Earth. And Williams has done a fantastic job capturing not only Monroe's sexuality and beauty, but also her vulnerability and insecurity and loneliness and sadness. Williams's portrayal of the star is in itself a star-making turn. I predict an Oscar nod for her again.

And that's saying a lot when Williams is surrounding by so many wonderful veteran actors playing famous actors and personalities. Julia Ormond (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is regal and sad as Vivien Leigh. Kenneth Branagh (Pirate Radio) is perfect as Sir Olivier Laurence. And Judi Dench (J. Edgar) is marvelously kind and stately as Dame Sybil Thorndike.

The young actors are not that bad either. Eddie Redmayne (Black Death) first impressed us in Savage Grace, and as Colin Clark, he is ernest, lovestruck, sweet, and naive all at once. Redmayne may not be the handsomest leading man, but he has the ability to make you root for him and care. Emma Watson (Harry Potter) has a harder time breaking away from her famous role as Hermione Gringer. She is fine in her small role as Lucy, but she'd need a much better and different role if she wants us to forget her as Hermione. Dominic Cooper (Captain America) and Dougray Scott (A Thousand Kisses Deep) do well as Milton Greene and Arthur Miller respectively.

Adapted from Colin Clark's own diaries, the screenplay by TV writer Adrian Hodges (Primeval) is spotty. The beginning slogs along as he sets up the story, but it tries a little too hard to portray Colin as a fearless young man. There are many side characters that rather muddle the plot, which is progresses rather fast and furiously but really only picks up with production of The Prince and the Showgirl begins and when Marilyn Monroe arrives.

But once it does, the story takes a fascinating turn. Monroe herself is fascinating enough. But what's going on around her is equally fascinating, especially if you're into film history and filmmaking. The tension between the Monroe and Olivier is palpable. The tension between Colin and all the other men who admire and love Marilyn is palpable. The sexual tension between Colin and Marilyn is palpable. And Colin's own confusion and vulnerability are palpable. The story, at this point, is so full of conflicts and human emotions that we just can't wait to see what happens next.

Director Simon Curtis (Cranford), mostly known for his TV work, has given us a handsome production with great location shots. The film has a distinctive British feel, and it should, even though it's about some of Hollywood's most famous stars. While the beginning rushes a bit with too many peripheral bits (the plot would have been stronger if it had begun when Colin's already working as a 3rd), the core of the story as well as the relationship between Colin and Marilyn holds our interest. A large part is due to Monroe's personality and Michelle Williams's fascinating portrayal. But the director has given them a space to indulge in that piece of history.

The result is quite satisfying. Williams's performance manages to eclipse the veterans' (all excellent), and the film is well made. My 99 minutes with Marilyn is well worth it.

Stars: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Dougray Scott
Director: Simon Curtis
Writers: Adrian Hodges (based on book by Colin Clark)
Distributor: Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: R for language, partial nudity, sexuality and drug use
Running Time: 99 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 8

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0

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