Part coming-of-age love story, part period piece, and part historical biopic, Simon Curtis’s feature film debut My Week With Marilyn falters heavily in its ability to find narrative consistency throughout its meandering 100 minutes.
Skirting the fine line between made-for-TV romantic drab and glossed over, historical melodrama, the film doesn’t have much more to offer other than Michelle Williams’s titular performance of the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Marilyn Monroe.
Based off the memoirs (The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn) of the film’s real-life protagonist Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the film follows Clark as he lands his first film-industry job as the Third Assistant Director on the production of Laurence Olivier’s 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirls.
Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark in Simon Curtis’s film My Week With Marilyn. Photo by: Laurence Cendrowicz/ The Weinstein Company
The film opens with a cringe-inducing intrepid and awkward narration in which Clark sets the stage for his character’s journey.
“I had to go out on my own and prove myself” the young Clark ambitiously declares, much to his wealthy parent’s disappointment. His annoyingly chipper and naïve attitude only amplifies when he finds his way into Sir Laurence Olivier’s (played, of course, by Kenneth Branagh) office looking for a job.
Denied of work initially, he comes back every morning for weeks on end; waiting patiently each day for a job, like a helpless, tragic character out of a Dickens novel (“please sir, can I have some more”). When, finally, a position opens up as the Third Assistant Director (re: errand boy), Clark, drunk on enthusiasm and rejoice, accepts, not knowing just what he’s getting himself into.
As much as My Week With Marilyn is about the famed starlet’s troubling personal life, it’s an homage to the movie-making process during the golden age of movies. Clumsy as the film may be, the few glowing moments shining through the thick fog of dreary romantic clichés come during the scenes of the actual shoot of the film.
Though portraying the legendary thespian Laurence Olivier as more of a caricature than an accurate representation (as are most of the performances in the film), Branagh provides for most of the film’s light-hearted, endearing humor and, even, the film’s very few effectively poignant moments.
Of course, the focus of the film is the blonde bombshell herself, Marilyn. At the time during which the film takes place, Marilyn, fresh from her recent marriage with playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), is the biggest celebrity in the world, and the film appropriately captures that sensibility.
“Should I be her?” she says to Colin in a scene midway through the film as the two of them escape on an excursion to visit Windsor Castle, only to be bombarded by an eager crowd enchanted just by the sight of her. She then winks seductively to Colin before embracing the sexy, teasing “Marilyn” persona the world has come to know and admire. But, as the film explores, there’s a much darker, tragic side to her stardom.
Emma Watson as Lucy in Simon Curtis’s filmMy Week With Marilyn. Photo by: Laurence Cendrowicz/ The Weinstein Company
As Colin gophers around the set of the shoot, Marilyn slowly begins to take notice of him, and once her husband, Arthur Miller, decides to fly back to the states, her fascination with Colin develops into a flirtatious, seemingly innocent fling.
Despite threats from Marilyn’s people (including amusing performances from Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, and Geraldine Somerville), Colin, like the rest of the world, is utterly taken by Marilyn and follows her every command like a moth to a light. To complicate things even further, Colin’s infatuation with Marilyn comes at the cost of a budding romance he had with Lucy (Emma Watson), a young costume designer working on the film.
Though the puppy-dog romance that never fully develops between Colin and Marilyn is clumsy and poorly executed, the film’s major fault is in its attempt to deconstruct Monroe’s personal demons.
In a pivotal scene that should be the film’s crowning moment, a groggy, drugged-out Marilyn confesses to Colin: “How come I push everyone I love away?” It’s the precarious and cathartic climax of the film that should devolve the enigma of Monroe, but instead merely serves as a point to defuse the narrative tensions between Colin and the rest of the film crew.
Curtis’s closest attempt at directorial mastery comes with the film’s wistful nostalgia and soft, delicate, yet exuberant cinematography, but, unfortunately his vision never seems to evolve much more than a 100-minute vehicle for Michelle William’s inevitable Oscar nomination.
Overall Grade: C+
My Week With Marilyn opens today in select theaters, click here for theaters and showtimes.