One thing that can be said for “My Week with Marilyn” is that it’s not your run-of-the-mill biopic. The movie is based on Colin Clark’s book about the making of “The Prince and the Showgirl”, a 1957 comedy starring Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. Said to have been a troubled set, “My Week with Marilyn” gives us an interesting glimpse at what it must have been like. But the movie mainly focuses on Colin Clark’s week-long relationship with Marilyn Monroe during the shoot. We spend a lot of time seeing the different sides of Marilyn through Adrian Hodges screenplay and the Oscar nominated performance of Michelle Williams. But while the film and especially Williams has received high praise, I found the movie lacking and in many ways missing the energy you would expect it to have.
The film starts with Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) leaving home in hopes of landing a job in the film industry. He ends up getting on with Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) new movie “The Prince and the Showgirl”. Marilyn Monroe (Williams) will be arriving to work on the picture and Colin’s first job is to find a home for her to stay in while she’s in London. Marilyn and Laurence get off on the wrong foot after she is late to the first script reading. This is a trend that continues throughout the filming of the movie and soon Laurence (who is also directing the picture) reaches his breaking point. Branagh is very good here and it’s quite obvious that he’s having a lot of fun with the role. He’s a likable character but very by-the-books when it’s time to work, something even his lovely but insecure wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormand) points out.
It’s during the stressful filming that we see Marilyn as extremely nervous and lacking any confidence in her acting abilities. In fact, she is almost always seen with her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) who actually serves more as a stabilizing mechanism to keep Marilyn from flying off the rails. Judi Dench plays Sybil Thorndike, a calm and soothing co-star who has sympathy for Marilyn and helps her build her confidence. But Marilyn doesn’t show up to the set one day and Colin is sent to check on her. A few days later Marilyn calls Colin to come over and see her. Colin is warned of Marilyn’s ways but his infatuation with her grows and grows. The relationship between the two is supposed to be unusual but I had a hard time finding any spark between them. Redmayne has the naive puppy dog thing working well but it was almost impossible to buy into their relationship.
I also thought the story, much like Colin and Marilyn’s fling, lacked any energy or vitality. I found my mind wandering during several scenes particularly when Marilyn is mumbling to Colin after taking to many pills. The movie just seems to hit an emotional flatline and I had a hard time staying interested. There were also times when Marilyn comes across as too childlike. I understand that the movie was trying to convey a type of childlike dependency in Marilyn but there were a couple of scenes where the script takes it too far.
But everything in this film comes back to the performance from Michelle Williams. She won a Golden Globe for the role but I have to say that I wasn’t as enamored with her work as most others have been. She certainly gives it everything she’s got and to be fair her biggest problem is that she’s let down by the material. But I never really felt like I was watching Marilyn Monroe. I always felt like I was watching someone play her. Now that may be expecting too much from Williams and it may be unfair. But this film hinges on the audience buying into Williams as Monroe and I only partially could.
When it comes down to it, “My Week with Marilyn” is pretty lightweight. It starts off strong but hits a rut at the midway point and spins its wheels for most of the second half of the film. Williams certainly isn’t bad here but she also isn’t Marilyn Monroe. I can see where if you buy into her performance completely, you’ll probably enjoy this film more than I did. But even with that, I would still have a hard time buying into this week-long lifeless fling. As I said at the beginning, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill biopic. But unfortunately it doesn’t use its uniqueness to create something special.