After writing about Me and Orson Welles and sitting through My Week with Marilyn, I’m starting to see an emerging genre here. One where we follow some uninteresting coattail-rider’s adventures on a set (or stage) with more famous, notable people. Why tell a story about iconic actors when you can tell a story about Zac Efron hanging out with iconic actors? I can’t spend 10 bucks fast enough on that.
In 1956, real-life-person-who-exists Colin Clark – thanks to some wealthy family privilege – got the chance to be an assistant to Sir Laurence Olivier on the set of his film The Prince and the Showgirl, which starred Olivier and Marilyn Monroe and infamously put Olivier off of directing another film for quite some time. Clark decided to put his experience into a tell-all called The Prince, The Showgirl and Me, but left out a seven-day period where he shows Marilyn the sights of England. This week became the subject of another book, adapted into this here film.
My Week with Marilyn isn’t an unwatchable film, partially thanks to the compelling inherent drama of the thing, what with a veteran actor teaming up with an actress who got famous before she got talented. Each one wants something the other has – Olivier (and his wife) practically lust after her youth like British vampires while Marilyn wants desperately to be as great as her director. Hence, bringing in acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker), who eventually becomes another roadblock between the continually frustrated Olivier and the confused, under-confident Marilyn.
Notice I don’t mention Clark at all in that paragraph. The film almost doesn’t even need him, but he wrote the damn book, so he has to be there. As Clark, Eddie Redmayne remains a suitable avatar for the audience, even though my memory falsely imagines Nicholas Holt in his place and that’s a whole lot better movie. As auteur/Shakespearean actor Olivier, auteur/Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh completes a cinematic Ouroboros hilariously appropriate for a film about the making of an earlier film. In smaller roles we have character acting stalwart Toby Jones as Monroe’s manager, Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller and Emma Watson as a costume department underling who gets to be Clark’s marginalized love interest. Particularly great in the film are Judi Dench as actress Sybil Thorndike – portrayed here as the sweetest old lady in the history of the universe, which she had been alive to witness firsthand – and Dominic Cooper as Monroe’s dickish photographer.
The star of the show, however, is Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, an iconic human being which Williams perfectly captures. But her performance goes beyond mere impression. Williams (and the script to some extent) understands that not only was Marilyn Monroe staggeringly gorgeous, she was extraordinarily fucked up. There’s a good film in there somewhere about a young man realizing that the most famous woman in the world is more than intoxicatingly pretty (thus realizing that the world is more complicated than the glitz and glamour of the movies would have you believe) but nobody involved on the storytelling side can figure out how to expound on that. As a result, Williams’ pitch-perfect performance occasionally loses any ground to stand without a decent script as a platform, causing her to metamorphose into some kind of alien utterly unfamiliar with human contact – so much that you expect her head to split open vertically and tendrils to whip out above, boring holes into the rest of the cast and crew and sucking the gray matter out of their skulls.
To his credit, screenwriter Adrian Hodges kinda-sorta grasps at all the above things save the projected John Carpenterisms. Too bad the script is so goddamn rote that it feels like it was written exclusively by using the CTRL+F function in Final Draft. After a very poorly staged opening song and dance number featuring the film’s Marilyn, we get an “It was the best summer of my life” style voiceover from Redmayne – and you better believe another voiceover pops up at the end for the sake of symmetry! Right after all the misdirected “coming of age” puppy dog heartbreak before that.
“Staged” is a good operative word for this production, because TV director Simon Curtis puts together a competent film – albeit one that occasionally doesn’t cut together correctly, or maybe that’s the editor’s fault – but one that feels like something that might originally air on A&E. Here’s the thing about making a movie about a film production from the mid ’50s – movies from that era look so stagey already. I wish TV director Simon Curtis was a real filmmaker and injected the proceedings with at least a modicum of naturalism. Instead, we have dramatic music and some ham-fisted attempts at artistry – you see, when they take pictures of Marilyn, the screen goes black and white. Simon Curtis, your Palm D’Or’s in the mail.
Navel-gazing be damned – the people adapting Clark’s memoirs should have tossed out their protagonist and just created an account of the production based on the text. Barring that, I would have gladly given My Week with Marilyn a full 5.0 if it were called Memoirs of a Starfucker, even though the “fucking” bit would technically be a misnomer. Then again, this movie is 101 minutes and not a week long, so maybe I really am onto something.
by Danny Djeljosevic