The single biggest hurdle in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is how believable the actor impersonating the icon is. For the first few minutes, there is the inevitable comparison. MM’s nose wasn’t exactly like that. Her figure was slightly different. The shape of the face is off. Yet within no more than 10 minutes, and probably considerably less, it just doesn’t matter. More, it just doesn’t register anymore. The skill with which Michelle Williams has channeled Marilyn’s very soul takes charge with such authority means that, when watching her, it is virtually impossible to see the actress herself beneath the blond hair, pouty lips, and vulnerable carnality of the sex symbol and troubled woman that Williams has laid bare. This is a bold performance that revels in the complexity of Marilyn’s personality and, while full of compassion for a little girl lost, is not afraid to bring in the sharp edges of what made Marilyn impossibly neurotic as well as emotionally needy and monstrously selfish.
The whole is filmed with the dewy-eyed gloss of a 23-year-old on the cusp of his first big disillusionment with the real world. It is archly elegant, as is Colin Clark, on whose memoir the film is based. As played by Eddie Redmayne, he is a gangly, determined youth with a fine intelligence and an even finer education, neither of which prepares him for what happens when he crosses paths with Marilyn Monroe. He is the Third Assistant Director on the film THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, she is the star, driving her co-star and director, Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), to distraction with her erratic behavior. Clark and Monroe form an unlikely bond, to the consternation of her jealous handlers, simmering ire of his new girlfriend (Emma Watson), and grudging approval of Olivier, whose own insecurities and selfishness are handled with a cool but not unsympathetic regard. Seen through Clark’s eyes, the disastrous juxtaposition of a pompous theater actor with the respect of the world, and an instinctive movie star appreciated for little more than her feminine charms, takes interesting turns as the production suffers petty jealousies and heroic efforts as it lurches towards completion, and Clark finds himself in the unique position of being perhaps the only person who can save it.
It is to the credit of everyone that none of the performances are imitations or parodies. More than a pastiche with period accoutrements, they have a satisfying depth, with Juliette Binoche’s fragile and tragic Vivien Leigh, Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndyke bringing a sensible sensitivity that neither condescends nor coddles, and Zoe Wanamaker as Paula Strassberg, Monroes ferocious and ferociously enabling acting coach/mentor, whose honeyed words are more crippling than healing. Most noteworthy in writing and execution is Branagh’s clipped and self-consciously precise cadences as Olivier, an affect that would have foiled a lesser actor, yet he achieves the preening narcissism that in the end matches in counterpoint Monroe’s staggering sense of inferiority. It’s a clever turn played impeccably, bespeaking a world of more than just these two actors, encapsulating an art form, and even society as a whole, going through a traumatic transition that will ruthlessly leave the weak and the reluctant behind.
MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is a sensitive study of the star who was adored by millions, but truly loved for herself by very few. The addictive nature of celebrity, for object and public, is laid as bare as Monroe herself is while taking a skinny-dip with the gob-smacked Clark, or discovering what her new husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) really thinks of her. Literate without being pretentious, beautiful without being sentimental, it’s a film as ravishing as Monroe herself.