I’m starting to feel sorry for actresses. So many times over the last decade, I’ve seen movies where they give a great performance, yet I always have to qualify it with “great performance, bad movie.” My Week with Marilyn is no different.
This film is a complete mess. It’s all about a spoiled rich kid, Colin (Eddie Redmayne). At the start of the picture, Colin wants nothing more than to be a part of making movies. By the end, all he cares about is his infatuation with the most iconic sex symbol of the 20th century. The film begins as a neat little behind the scenes look at filmmaking. Colin gets a job as an assistant on the not-so-classic, The Prince and The Showgirl starring Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).
My Week with Marilyn wants to be two movies. It wants its cake and it wants another better tasting cake. On one hand, it’s the story of young manhood, going out into the world with your dreams and making something of yourself, falling in love for the first time and all that jazz. On the other hand, the movie is about Monroe, using the microcosm of her latest movie to tell the real story behind the legend.
After a while it becomes clear that the filmmakers are more interested in the latter story. Very quickly “Colin finding his way” becomes “Colin getting used by Monroe,” and then it becomes all Monroe with Colin in the background. You start to wonder why he’s even in the movie, which brings up the pricklier issue of whether the story happened or not. It’s supposed to be a true story, but it plays like painfully banal wish-fulfillment.
The behind the scenes stuff is nice, but not as interesting because the movie being made isn’t a classic of any kind. There’s some decent comic relief, as Kenneth Branagh has some fun playing his Shakespearean predecessor, but that’s it. The tone is insufferable and all over the map. I can’t for the life of me tell you if this was light romantic fluff or a dramatic biopic or a nostalgic time capsule or what. It’s sporadic at best. And if it is meant to show you the real Monroe, it only serves to mythologize her more. The movie only touches upon information that can be bullet-pointed easily: married for the third time, pill popper, depressed, wants to be taken seriously, can’t cope with stardom, constantly playing a part, etc.
The only saving grace, the only reason you might sense you’re getting to know Monroe past her postcard image is Michelle Williams’s performance. Williams is usually great, but typically in more raw down-to-earth roles, like Blue Valentine or Wendy & Lucy. Not to knock her, but I don’t think of her as especially sexy or even radiant. She is easily both of those things in this movie. I mean, how do you act radiant? I don’t know, but Williams does. The script doesn’t really allow her to do much more than an impersonation, but it is a pretty damn good one. Seriously, the film only has her either “acting” the Monroe persona, which Williams nails, or being depressed. Well, you don’t spend 5 seasons on Dawson’s Creek without learning how to play sad.
It’s one of the few times I’d rather of had a straight-up biopic, just so I could enjoy the performance more; that, and get rid of the annoying “main” character. The film is rather harmless and instantly forgettable, but like so many actress showcases, “great performance, bad movie.”