Smile Politely

My week with Marilyn hinges on Branagh and Williams’ performances

My Week with Marilyn

I wasn’t completely captivated with My Week with Marilyn the way that many were with the legend herself. I had mixed feelings about the film and what it was trying to do. I like Michelle Williams, and I believe that she did a fine job with what she was given, but I think she was overshadowed at times by Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier. He’s authentic—fiery, impassioned, impatient, meticulous and flawed. He puts a lot of faith in Monroe to curb his feelings of inadequacy, wanting to renew himself through her and become the star that she is.

Olivier is dramatic and overwrought when dealing with Marilyn but that’s part of the idea. She’s big news. Branagh is a great actor and he plays the part flawlessly. He even manages to slip in some Shakespeare—for which he is most well known—when he quotes The Tempest while staring in his mirror. “We are such stuff as dreams are made of.” Branagh must have been right at home getting to quote a play from the Bard through the mouth of an actor who also famously portrayed Hamlet.

This isn’t to say that Williams was just okay. She had it tougher than anyone. At times, I felt like I was watching a caricature though. I suspect this is less to do with Williams’ performance than it is to do with the fact that the script still gives us very little about who the woman everyone knew as Marilyn Monroe really was. She seemed like some anachronistic piece added to the movie. Perhaps that’s the point though—Marilyn felt disconnected from her true self and instead spent most of her time consciously being Marilyn Monroe. The film hammers that fact in with the pills, the breakdowns, the perpetual unhappiness and the self-doubt.

Monroe seems to only be able to truly let loose and feel free when accompanied by Colin Clark, a young, bright-eyed, naive, enthusiastic third assistant director during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. On set, Monroe seems intimidated by Olivier’s acting prowess and he, in return, is intimidated by her star power. She falters much of the time on set at first, but as someone crudely says to Olivier, “with tits like that you make exceptions.” And they do.

Monroe is nervous and awkward. She breaks down. Dame Sybil (Judy Dench) sticks up for Monroe in something more than a superficial way, reminding everyone that she is in a strange country playing a strange role.

Essentially, the film portrays Monroe as a train wreck. One would think that a lack of confidence in a big star should be charming but it’s annoying and exhausting here. She’s profoundly unhappy and whiny. She struggles throughout to find an innocence and freedom that she never had. She plays the lost little girl but she is apparently “devouring” Arthur Miller, her stiff third husband who has to return back to the U.S. because he can’t help her or take care of her. Monroe seems all too familiar with the pattern. “All people ever see is Marilyn Monroe. As soon as they see I’m not her, they run.”

Monroe is 30, but she just wants some freedom and fun and to feel young. She has to perform and pose for the press and to complete the production. She has to be sexy and ignore the fact that the character doesn’t seem real. She has to “be her.”

She’s better with Colin Clark. Aside from Sinatra and Coca-Cola nothing much seems to bring a smile to her face. She lets her guard down, laughs and opens up with Colin. She feels more “light of heart and fancy free,” a song that she also sings for the film that she is in the midst of making.

But, as she does with her pills, Monroe uses Clark as a crutch. He sticks by her side when she needs him most and she counts on him to care for her until she decides to—or is able to—move forward. Monroe would go on to do Some Like it Hot after the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl portrayed here. “When Marilyn gets it right you don’t wanna look at anyone else.”

I give it 2.75/4 stars

My Week with Marilyn is now playing at the Art Theater.

More Articles