Dir. Simon Curtis
(2011, R, 101 min)

According to the production notes, My Week with Marilyn is about “the brief, charged connection [Marilyn Monroe] forged with a young man who came to understand her better than anyone.” The film’s biggest problem is that it believes that. I can’t comment on the actual week young, wide-eyed Colin Clark spent with Monroe while she filmed The Prince and the Showgirl, but the character in the film, played by Eddie Redmayne, doesn’t seem to understand her very well at all. That the film idealizes their relationship misses what really seems to have been at the heart of Monroe’s loneliness and isolation.

Clark came from a privileged background but struck out on his own to pursue a career in the movie business. Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), a family friend (quite a family to have such friends), gave Colin a job as a third assistant director on Prince, which he directed and starred in, trying to recapture his youth by appearing with Hollywood icon Monroe. Says Colin to Monroe in one of the film’s best lines, “Olivier is a great actor who wants to be a star, and you’re a star who wants to be a great actress. But this film won’t help either of you.”

We learn that Monroe is hopelessly insecure about her acting ability, especially when berated by the far more seasoned Olivier. Trying to keep her calm are handlers who seem less interested in her well-being than in maintaining their position in her inner circle. Her producing partner (Dominic Cooper) and acting coach (Zoë Wanamaker) jealously isolate her from influences outside their own, and excessive medication keeps her docile. At this point she is recently married to playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), who already seems to regret the union. She is the most wanted woman in the world, and those around her only want her for what they can get out of her.

But is Colin really any different? The film seems to think so, but that doesn’t quite ring true. Although he might be drawn to her with the best of intentions – he is attracted to her beauty, but also sympathizes with her plight – his behavior seems no less self-serving. He too isolates Marilyn (because no one cares as much as he does), indulging in her affection, all the while vigorously stroking his engorged ego at the thought of the Marilyn Monroe giving him a second thought. With lightning speed he professes his deep love for her, but is it her that he really loves, or the idea of being wanted – no, needed – by the world’s most coveted woman? That’s the inherent loneliness of Marilyn as presented by this film; men flock to her, but all they see is themselves.

Marilyn is played by Michelle Williams, and at first we can’t help but be distracted by her mimicry of those famous, breathy mannerisms, but as we settle into the film we are able to recognize how natural she is in the role, how graceful and full of longing in playing a woman showered with attention but seemingly without a friend in the world. Director Simon Curtis wrongly invites us to identify with lovestruck Colin during his brief, rose-colored romance, but my sympathy was with Marilyn, a damsel in distress who needed to be rescued from all her rescuers.

 

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