Film review: My Week with Marilyn

by Fiona Rae / 10 March, 2012
There's memorable acting in Simon Curtis's unmemorable film, says David Larsen.


How many great films was Marilyn Monroe in? How many forgettable films was she great in? The most interesting thing about Simon Curtis’s My Week with Marilyn, in which a bland young Brit finds himself sharing pillow talk with the actress even the Queen of England describes as the most famous woman in the world, is that it creates opportunities for memorable acting without tiptoeing within a mile of being memorable itself.

It’s 1956, and 23-year-old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) has landed his dream job, director’s gofer on a major British film production. The director, Sir Laurence Olivier, has just made the unwelcome discovery that the world contains a more wilful star ego than his own. Colin, detailed to get the talent to the set on time, pauses only to wipe the drool from his chin. He becomes Marilyn’s worshipful minder.

Will Marilyn suck the adoration out of Colin like juice from an orange? Will Colin get hurt? Will he Learn About Life? Please. Well before our mismatched leads even meet, the only questions still open are how good the acting is going to be and whether Curtis intends to probe more than a millimetre under his none-more-glam subject’s ivory skin. By the time Marilyn teasingly asks Colin, “Shall I be her?” – meaning, shall I put on my public persona for these people who’ve just spotted me and let you be the man on my arm? – it’s already clear the acting is extraordinary while the film itself is pleasantly vapid. But this scene sets things in concrete.

These star-struck onlookers just happen to be the below-stairs staff of Windsor Castle. Colin has gained access for Marilyn by dropping his godfather’s name at the gate. (Colin Clark was a real person, born to some of the bluest blood in Britain, and this story is purportedly a true one, although one notes he never told it until everyone likely to dispute the details was dead.) The film just adores the chance to show us Marilyn wowing the Queen’s servants, but it also imagines it’s telling us the sweet tale of an ordinary boy’s brush with a goddess. The notion that Marilyn’s interest in Colin could have anything to do with his patrician roots – could in fact be an instance of her fatal attraction to alpha males, rather than a brief, easeful breath of non-rarified air – is far too rich for its digestion.

Michelle Williams, though, becomes Marilyn, right down to the cellular level, flowing easily in and out of those familiar public poses, while allowing us to glimpse underneath them neediness, self-hatred and a confused mind that’s nonetheless much sharper than its owner pretends. In lieu of a screenplay worthy of her abilities, Williams comes partnered with other strong performances, notably Kenneth Branagh’s hilarious Olivier and Judi Dench’s imperious, thoroughly benign Dame Sybil Thorndike.

It would be nice to read this wan nostalgia piece’s weaknesses as a crafty homage to old-fashioned star power. But “nice” is a dangerous word, and Simon Curtis is the man to show you why.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, directed by Simon Curtis. Click here for theatres and times.



Click here for more stories and reviews by David Larsen.

WHERE IT BEGAN


Marilyn Monroe is in John Huston's 1950 noir crime caper classic The Asphalt Jungle for only about three minutes. It was her 11th film, but her first real break; Huston cast her against advice – and she sets the screen on fire. It's one of those small casting decisions that tell you everything you need to know about a film: every frame of this atmospheric black and white thriller has been carefully constructed for maximum impact, which is why it launched a thousand imitators. The branches of the New Zealand Film Society are showing it up and down the country over the next few months, it screened in Auckland on March 5.

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, directed by John Huston; for screening details, visit www.nzfilmsociety.org.nz.
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