The only thing that matters about My Week With Marilyn is whether or not Michelle Williams pulls off the blonde goddess. And the answer is HOLY SHIT YES. Caps lock is how I feel inside all the time after watching her performance. When most actors approach a bio-pic of a famous figure, they seem to feel that all that’s necessary is a wig and some prosthetics maybe, and a pennyante improv accent, a SNL sketch version where all you have to do is hit a few mannerisms. Williams becomes Marilyn Monroe. She is luminescent — she actually fucking glows when she is on screen. It’s outstanding, remarkable, and uses up all the effusive adjectives in my repertoire. The beautiful and complicated part is that Marilyn Monroe herself actually spent most of her time trying to play Marilyn Monroe for her fans and for the cameras. So Williams actually has to play almost two characters. And there is never a moment when you look at her on screen and don’t believe for a minute that she’s captured Monroe. Because there is a never a moment when Williams is on screen that you aren’t just captivated by her.
My Week With Marilyn is part of the new breed of biopics I refer to as “them-ographies.” Instead of giving us the main attraction’s entire history and life, it deals with a brief but pivotal period of their lives through the eyes of one of us common folk. Julie & Julia is like this to a lesser extent, but the best example, and one that this film particularly reminded me of, was Richard Linklater’s underappreciated gem Me and Orson Welles. It’s an effective method to gaze at a star — it shows all the humanity and frailty and cruelty of celebrity without having to delve into an entire genesis.
My Week With Marilyn frames the period of time when Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) came to Britain to film The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). As aptly stated in the film, Olivier was a great actor who wanted to show the world he could be a cinema star and Monroe was a cinema star who wanted to show the world she could be a great actress. The film is told from the perspective of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a youngest son of British upper crust who wanted to become a filmmaker. His well-connected parents are friends with Olivier and his wife Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond), and so Colin is able to doggedly pursue a cushy position on the film as 3rd Assistant Director — essentially a gofer. Clark eventually and naively charms his way into being a confidante to the starlet, who proceeds to draw him in only to break his heart. Through Clark’s story, the film is able to charmingly and whimsically pursue several avenues of intrigue — old actors being shoved aside for the young, the insecurity and fragility of celebrity, public versus private life — without ever getting too morose. The general plot and story is as frothy and digestible as one of the lattes a set gofer would fetch, serving only as a vehicle to deliver astounding performances.
As I said, Williams shines like the sun, but a great deal of that comes from the supporting cast. Ensembles have been fucking monstrously good this year — kudos to the casting directors for assembling this much talent. Branagh’s wonderfully arrogant and brooding as Olivier, and it’s sumptuous irony when you realize that Branagh, an older actor who has made his career playing rich and Shakespearean parts, is playing second fiddle to a beautiful young starlet in a film where his role costs of playing an older actor who has made his career playing rich and Shakespearean parts playing second fiddle to a beautiful young starlet in a film. Emma Watson has a small part as Colin Clark’s set girlfriend, a costumer named Lucy who gets shunted aside for his puppydog affection for the goddess Monroe. It’s a brilliant move on the actress’s part after coming down from the frenzy of Hermione Granger — a love interest without being THE love interest. Judi Dench, who simply adores popping up on various sets for a few days of shooting, plays Dame Sybil Thorndyke, and it’s one of those parts that you assume just said in the script, “Get Judi Dench.” Dominic Cooper, who plays excellent bastards, has an excellent bastard turn as Milton Greene, a Marilyn hanger-on, and Toby Jones continues his wonderful prick run this year as Arthur Jacobs. I want to especially commend Julia Ormond as Vivian Leigh, who was only trumped by the virtually unrecognizable Dougray Scott gruffly playing Arthur Miller. Eddie Redmayne has the hardest part, because he’s not supposed to shine. His Colin is just a nobody, and Redmayne shuffles through the part admirably.
But, in all honesty, My Week With Marilynis Michelle Williams’ film, and goddamn does she just kill the part. As much as I’d like to credit director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Adrian Hodges, no one would really give a shit if not for Williams simply becoming Marilyn Monroe. There’s none of that fucking amateurish Betty-Boop-oop-a-dooping you’d fear. No one gives Williams enough credit as an actress, and frankly, I’m to be included in that shaming. In a year of outstanding lead actress performances, Williams is simply remarkable. And while My Week With Marilyn isn’t any sort of revelatory spectacle, it does give us a chance to marvel at Williams as much as we’d gawk at Marilyn Monroe.