Oy, this movie’s a mess. If I see another burnt light bulb again and go insane, it’s because of Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn. The iconic Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) from the second she lands on England to work in the troubled set of The Prince and the Showgirl with (Michelle Williams), Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Dame Sibyl Thorndike (Dame Judi Dench), those light bulbs help to capture her image and aim to symbolize the fanfare around her but only shows how badly edited the movie is. Speaking of aesthetics, the cinematography is decidedly British, dulling the bright colors of 1956 movie making but it looks occasionally dewy and romantic.
I watched it expecting to experience the shadows that walked the hallways of those British studios in 1956. Marilyn, her arm cradled by her Method acting teacher Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) while third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) watches from behind. But neither Williams, Branagh, nor Julia Ormond who plays Vivien Leigh, capture these old essences, although it’s understandably hard for them to do so knowing how famous those characters still are. These actors’ voices are a bit deep for the characters they play and yes, I do want mimicry.
Let’s talk about Marilyn Monroe, the alter ego to Norma Jean Mortensen, the ineffable within the already ineffable. The closest that the latter is documented is in Monroe’s performance in The Misfits. Marilyn is the person on camera while Norma seems to be more of a blank slate. Williams portrays ‘Marilyn’ because she might be accused of playing herself if she fully tune out from emulating Monroe’s on-screen persona. It’s a kind of shorthand. But even in her attempts the poster for Prince has more chemistry that Williams and her co-stars. And despite getting Marilyn’s comic timing right, there’s too little in her performance that warrants the other characters’ praise of her. Her performance also has its share of multiple personalities, talking in Marilyn’s well-known whisper-y voice then dropping it in the next sentence.
There are moments where this bipolarity works. They’re filming an easy scene yet Marilyn fumbles lines. When Larry yells ‘Cut!’ she hides behind the door, sweat filling her brows. But when they do another take, she glows from afar. These transitions happen in seconds, Williams showing Marilyn’s professionalism. Then Larry tells her to ‘be sexy,’ making her eyes and lips quiver like Monroe’s, breaking down. In a way, Williams is micro-acting here, stretching and moving her body express both the sorrow and the joy. Leaning her head forward as Marilyn nervously tries to get another line right, or a hand gesture while spending alone time with Colin. If it’s not the real Marilyn, it’s the studied performance of a mid-century lady who finds her life’s mission to seduce either in person or on-screen. In a way she can represent the 21st century infantile ego, someone who’s been comforted into thinking that she can take her own time for the sake of professionalism. Someone who is addicted to constant praise and yet is never satisfied by it. We’re seeing this woman’s insecurities, putting her in a situation where she’s placed to work to be her best for these issues to come out, as an actress who’ll never know how great she is.