Marilyn Well Acted but Inconsequential
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2011 23 Nov
DVD Release Date: March 13, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: November 23, 2011 (limited)
Rating: R (for some language)
Run Time: 99 min.
Director: Simon Curtis
Actors: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Dougray Scott, Zoe Wanamaker, Toby Jones
Marilyn Monroe was many things: a movie star, a singer, a sex symbol. But was she a great actress? Film historians and fans have been debating that question for years, but the new film My Week with Marilyn sides with the “great actress” camp.
The movie is based on Colin Clark’s memories of a week not recounted in an earlier book (The Prince, the Showgirl and Me) about his experiences working on the set of the Lawrence Olivier-directed film The Prince and Showgirl. My Week with Marilyn is at times a breezy, morose and ultimately inconsequential account of the troubled actress and the young assistant director who fell under her spell during production.
Directed by and starring Olivier (Kenneth Branagh, Valkyrie), The Prince and the Showgirl had the added star wattage of Monroe (Michelle Williams, Meek’s Cutoff), but the film’s production was close to disastrous. Monroe arrived with an acting coach (Zoe Wanamaker) enamored with “the method.” Needless to say, Monroe was no Marlon Brando in the method-acting department. Olivier’s insistence that method-acting is appropriate for practice but not on the set is met with resistance by Monroe’s entourage. Olivier’s skepticism about the actress’ abilities only grows after she flubs her early scenes.
Although the world is captivated by Monroe’s beauty, she’s unable to meet the most basic demands of her profession, forgetting her lines and becoming the butt of jokes by the director and crew. Trying to teach Monroe to act, Olivier concludes, is like “trying to teach Urdu to a badger.”
The actress is soon hiding in her room and taking too many pills to cope with the disappointment she senses in others. But it’s not only on the set where Monroe senses trouble. Her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott)—her third, his second—is not going well. “I can’t work, I can’t think,” Miller tells Olivier. “She’s devouring me.”
Monroe finds her own confidant in Colin, who, while the film’s resentful crew stews, whisks her away from the set for a quick reprieve from the pressures of the film. But she can’t escape her woes—marital or otherwise.
“You’re just looking for the right man,” Colin tells her, attempting to cheer her up.
“They always look right at the start,” she replies.
Williams captures Monroe’s vulnerability and sex appeal, even as the film seems uncertain about whether to treat her as an untouchable screen goddess or a deeply troubled individual. She was both, of course, but the film won’t settle for ambivalence. Not surprisingly, it wants audiences to leave theaters remembering the laughter and glamour associated with Monroe, rather than any unsettling thoughts about the sources of Monroe’s deep personal pain and insecurities.
“Why do the people I love always leave?” Monroe asks Colin. The film offers no answer to her question. Before the end credits roll, Monroe’s most caustic critics will be singing her praises. All other storylines—including an undercooked romance between Colin and a wardrobe assistant (Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2)—aren’t worthy of reflection. It’s Williams as Monroe that the movie wants front and center, and the actress is good enough in the role to make basic considerations about the point of the broader story seem frivolous.
My Week with Marilynis a frothy, insubstantial movie, but its cast makes the film pass by breezily, requiring little effort on the part of viewers to dig beneath the surface and explore the complexities of Monroe’s struggles. See it for Williams’ admirable performance, but don’t expect the film to lead you to deep thoughts about the downside of fame, or the despair that consumed Marilyn Monroe.
“When Marilyn gets it right, you just don’t want to watch anyone else,” says one awed filmmaker watching the actress on-screen. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself agreeing but simultaneously wondering why My Week with Marilyn has little else to offer.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; the “f” word; “a-s”; third assistant directors are described as “randy boogers who just want some fun”; crude term for female breasts; “hell.”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Monroe has a dependence on pills; a man is asked to spy on her because, “among other things,” she drinks; Monroe gives Colin a drink.
- Sex/Nudity: Kissing; cleavage; during a press conference, Monroe is asked if she wears nothing to bed but perfume; Monroe plays a character who is seduced by Olivier’s character, but Olivier’s wife, Vivian Leigh, suspects he’s determined to seduce Monroe in real life; Monroe walks out of shower with only a towel around her head, and walks into her hotel room, where Colin sees her, although nothing is shown; Olivier crudely says he hopes Colin is sexually involved with Monroe, because it might “calm her down”; Colin kisses Lucy and tries for more, but she stops him; Monroe’s nude lower back side shown; when she skinny dips in a lake, Colin jumps in after her and is shown emerging from the water in his underwear; Colin lies in bed with Monroe while she’s in a drugged state; Monroe kisses Colin; Monroe takes a bath, but we see only a soapy back and some soapy limbs.
- Violence/Crime: Marilyn experiences some bleeding, but a doctor refuses to disclose to others whether or not she’s pregnant.
Religion/Morals: Reports that the U.S. Congress suspects Arthur Miller of being a Communist, then later that they no longer do; a character says he’s prayed all his life for a great actress, and God has given him Marilyn Monroe.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.