Williams spends disappointing week as Marilyn

By Drew Hunt

Infatuation with movie stars is nothing new. When we were young, many of our first crushes came from the silver screen, where regular people are made to look larger than life. We admire their looks, we admire their celebrity status and sometimes, we even fancy the idea that maybe—just maybe—we’d have a real shot with them.

Such is the basic premise of “My Week with Marilyn,” a movie based on a pair of memoirs written by Colin Clark, a recently deceased documentarian whose first experience in the movies was third assistant director to Sir Laurence Olivier for his film “The Prince and the Showgirl.”

While working on the film, Colin (played by Eddie Redmayne), a real movie buff, becomes smitten with actress Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), who has come to England at the request of Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Her time on set, however, is riddled with unprofessionalism and emotional breakdowns, drawing the ire of the cast and crew.

Naturally, Clark is the only one to take pity upon the wayward Monroe. After her husband, the venerable playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) decides to head home, the two embark on an amorous courtship, where Colin quickly falls in love despite warnings of Monroe’s flighty behavior.

“My Week with Marilyn” is the debut from Simon Curtis, whose background as a director lies solely in British television. Unfortunately for him, it shows. The film suffers from an overcooked and lifeless visual style that doesn’t make use of the wide scope offered by cinema. He relies on his television aesthetics by cutting what feels like every three seconds, assuming film audiences, like TV audiences, are easily distracted.

Matters are made even worse thanks to a no-stakes narrative that seems to meander along, devoid of motivation. This is in spite of its “movie about a movie” theme, which at its best, makes for interesting cinematic historiography and, at its worst is at least mildly interesting.

Considering this, “My Week with Marilyn” is at its best when the cameras are aimed toward the cameras. The mess that was the filming of “The Prince and the Showgirl” was common knowledge before it was documented in Clark’s memoirs, but there’s no denying the gleefulness that is Curtis’ re-enactment. Seeing Branagh and his theatrical portrayal of Olivier, ridicule Monroe and her reliance on the method acting style makes for something of an in-joke for cinephiles. It adds the  has the added layer of Williams’ work in “Blue Valentine,” a movie that took method acting to paltry new heights.

Williams’ contributions to “My Week with Marilyn” are perhaps the most maddening. Her scenes play out like glorified Oscar reels, and considering the film was financed by the Weinstein Company—the company that also put up the cash for “Blue Valentine”—this should come as no surprise.

To be fair, Williams has been criminally underrated for years, and it’s only when she’s relegated to the form of a caricature that she’s actually noticed. As Monroe, Williams strives to be as true to her character as possible—an effort that pales in comparison to her turn in “Meek’s Cutoff,” in which a ratty bonnet and ever-present layer of dirt masks her beauty but feels more real than anything in “My Week with Marilyn.”

This obvious shelling for more money and bigger audiences doesn’t suit Williams, but that doesn’t stop her playing part in a film that sacrifices artistic merit for mainstream appeal.