In 1956, British thespian Sir Laurence Olivier and Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe joined their considerable forces for the production of The Prince and the Showgirl, a light comedy precursor to Monroe’s acting career peak, Some Like It Hot.
Colin Clark, a well-off yet determined young man of 23 (going on 24), performed “gofer” work behind the tumultuous scenes and supposedly shared a moment with Monroe while obeying her every whim, then wrote a memoir about it forty years later.
Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn is the film adaptation of that book, featuring a radiant Michelle Williams as the blonde bombshell, Eddie Redmayne as the concupiscent Clark, and Kenneth Branagh as a continually aggravated “Larry” Olivier. Unfortunately, now two major motion picture productions have revolved around Monroe’s frivolity on set, and both turned out decidedly less than magical.
Of course, there’s no question Marilyn was enchanting. She was the kind of glamorous star that, as the saying goes, “made women want to be her and men want to (meet) her.”
A scene in which Queen of England relays her envy of “the most famous woman in the world,” immediately followed by a horde of horny schoolboys chasing Marilyn in another says plenty about her status and appeal at the time. Only Curtis’ film belabors the point with repetitious “see, she couldn’t even walk the streets” tussles, media frenzies, and too many mouths agog to count, until its painfully obvious why Monroe was a pill-popping headcase.
That is essentially how Williams portrays her, a bipolar personality that both adores and abhors the spotlight. Cinematographer Ben Smithard assists, shooting Williams in dim light when she is playing a fragile airhead and with a warm glow when she’s a confident pin-up capable of turning a flirtatious phrase. It is impossible to emulate an icon, but Williams sells her method personification of “Marilyn” with breathy vocals, girlish behavior, and come-hither expressions. Of course, this is from the romanticized recollections of an admirer, which is why Monroe is often an angelic, intangible mirage of beauty.
However, just as The Prince and the Showgirl depended on the magnetic, yet scatterbrained Monroe, Curtis’ movie is enraptured and hopelessly focused on discovering who the real Marilyn was. So much so that the film loses sight of its protagonist, who is present but seems to forget his dream of proving himself to his family. Instead Clark is just a love-struck errand boy and a witness to a mere snapshot of her life. Redmayne shows potential for more memorable work in a deeper role, one where he’s not constantly shrugging his shoulders as if to say “it’s Marilyn Monroe, what do you expect?”
For the same reason, Branagh’s Olivier is reduced to huffing and puffing over Monroe. His wife, Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), is the older, jealous counterpart of Monroe. Dame Sybil Thorndike (Dame Judi Dench) is a source of motherly encouragement for Monroe. Emma Watson, in her first post-Hermione role, plays an adorable girl passed over for Monroe.
In a rare moment of honesty, Clark confesses Olivier’s movie won’t turn the classically trained actor into a Hollywood star any more than it will distinguish Monroe as an actress. Curtis’ brief biopic (and first feature) doesn’t do its seriously talented cast any favors either.
3 out of 5.