Chances are, even if you haven’t seen My Week with Marilyn you’re at least familiar with its iconic subject and its breathtaking leading lady. The film tells the story of 3rd Assistant Director Colin (Eddie Redmayne) and his intimate affair with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. It is a tragic story of first love and the complications that it brings. That being said, if you have seen a bittersweet romance before, you probably already know what to expect from My Week with Marilyn.
Upon its initial release, the film was lauded by critics and expected to be a serious contender at the Oscars. When nomination time came around, the film garnered a measly two nominations, one for Williams and the other for Kenneth Branagh’s turn as Laurence Olivier. Although I never thought I’d find myself saying this, the Oscars were right this time around. My Week with Marilyn functions best as a performance piece, and little else.
Of course, much like her onscreen icon, Michelle Williams is the true star of this story, with Redmayne merely as a framing device. Williams is utterly intoxicating in the role, playing both the vulnerability and the cleverness of the starlet with a combined sense of subtlety and reverence. The movie theorizes that Monroe was a victim, both of the studio system, but mainly, her sex symbol status. At other times, we see Williams channel the raw sensuality of the character that makes her so fascinating. While it is impressive to see the range of an otherwise flat on-screen persona, such shifts in personality are somewhat jarring.
This is where My Week with Marilyn falters. Even with the striking performance of Michelle Williams, the disregard for the story is so overwhelming that it left me lukewarm to the film. While a story of first love may sway some audience members, it was never enough to completely win me over. The film had the opportunity to create a compelling story based on Colin Clark’s memoirs, but instead, the film feels like yet another pseudo-sentimental dissection of Marilyn Monroe as a tragic genius. Genius or not, tragic figure or not, the film has no real regard for creating a fully realized story or any other stars besides Marilyn Monroe.
In the end, this ends up being the worst fault of the film. It painstakingly details Monroe, her insecurities, and her vulnerabilities, that it leaves little room to develop much of a story, but most importantly, other characters. Colin Clark is largely unlikeable as he fixates on the blonde bombshell, at the expense of all other relationships. Olivier is portrayed as a somewhat lecherous egomaniac. The only semblance of a decent human being in the film besides Monroe, is Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike. Even then, Dench is afforded too little screen time to truly influence the story.
My Week with Marilyn is, at best, an exercise in vanity. While Williams is absolutely deserving of the praise for her work, the film feels tailored to showcase her talents and little else. If you are a fan of Williams or enamored with stories of first love, My Week with Marilyn may be your type of film. However, the shallow characterization and the almost glacial pace of events in the film made for a solid performance piece for Williams, but an otherwise weak film.