From the DVD Shelves: My Week with Marilyn

I put this on my post-Oscar Netflix queue, but had no idea that it was actually a British film with a mostly British cast.  It’s set in 1956, when Marilyn Monroe went to England to film a movie with Sir Laurence Olivier.

I haven’t seen the movie that she went to film, which is called The Prince and the Showgirl, but I have seen a lot of her other movies, including The Misfits, Some Like It Hot, and the Seven Year Itch. Tons has been written, discussed, and guessed about Marilyn Monroe, so there’s not much I can add to it.  And so many people have portrayed her in movies and in photo shoots (see this photo gallery), that it’s almost old hat at this point.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is playing her and who is playing another person’s version of her.  I have seen the Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino film, Norma Jean and Marilyn, which I remember thinking was quite good when I was 15.  No telling what I would think now.

So, Michelle Williams.  First thing’s first, a picture comparison:

I’m not sure I can say she looks exactly like Marilyn, but she does look incredibly beautiful and ethereal.  She does a very good job in this movie, and most remarkable is her ability to capture the vulnerability of Marilyn Monroe, the insecurities and the tragedy of her life. Basically, she is the reason to see the movie.

The movie itself, its plot, is based on the memoirs of a young British guy who was Olivier’s young assistant at the time of the film. The plot is pretty much what you would expect; he falls for her, she lights up his life for a few days, and then breaks his heart.  Not the first movie about Marilyn that worked on that same premise.  It’s similar to the audience reaction, I expect.  We are meant to watch Marilyn, to fall in love with Marilyn, then mourn her exit from our lives.  The point of this movie is all about watching Michelle Williams as Marilyn; everything else in it is like set dressing. Even Emma Watson manages to look dowdy sharing the screen with her (thanks mostly to some truly unfortunate bangs and pathetic dialogue). Kenneth Branagh is convincing as Olivier, who is simultaneously angry with and envious of Monroe. The actor who plays Colin (the man who wrote the memoir) is very good as an adorably naive, slightly dimwitted, typical young man.

There’s not much plot, though.  It’s supposed to be a bildungsroman, to the point where it ends with Colin being described as taller, more experienced, etc. than he was at the beginning of the movie. But generally in a coming-of-age story, you are deeply invested in the trials of the protagonist. Imagine a Jane Eyre where we don’t care much for Jane, but are completely enraptured with Mr. Rochester–ok, maybe this is a bad example as I know many girls who this might apply to.  Still, perhaps the knowledge that this is Marilyn Monroe and no happy ending can be possible, and that the movie is called My Week With Marilyn, not My Lifetime or My Years with Marilyn…the knowledge that it is fleeting and that the movie will certainly follow a designated path, makes it hard to care as much.  Plus, this is not really a story about an affair.  The two spend time together, but there’s never a reciprocal relationship.  And everyone seems to know that, except maybe Colin.

Overall, it was a movie worth watching, but only for Michelle Williams’ performance.

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