Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) looks up at an admirer in My Week with Marilyn.
The story in My Week with Marilyn is one that seems quite cinematic. Two screen legends butt heads on set while one fools around with a young assistant director once her husband leaves town. It's juicy, deserves to be told, and could have made for a fine motion picture. But in the hands of director Simon Curtis, it falls flat. Passion is an emotion that doesn't exist in this world, despite the main character being one of the most lustful individuals in mankind's history. That's an inexcusable sin, and I blame the great and talented Michelle Williams as much as her director. Her Monroe is hardly compelling and only moderately alluring. At one point, Kenneth Branagh's Sir Laurence Olivier remarks that Monroe's only job is to show up on set and be sexy. You could make the same argument for Williams on this film in real life, yet she mostly fails (despite what the Academy would tell you). The whole thing is just a big disappointment.
The film is based on a pair of novels written by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a young British man with a privileged background who gives up his wealth to make a name for himself in the film industry. His family's contacts help get him a job as third assistant director on Sir Laurence Olivier's (Branagh) newest film, The Sleeping Prince (ultimately retitled The Prince and the Showgirl). While Colin would ideally assist creatively, he's fine fetching coffee and making sure the film's costar—American starlet Marilyn Monroe (Williams)—isn't getting into any trouble off set. Eventually, Monroe discovers Colin lurking around and questions his motives, but he's a sincere guy, and he becomes one of Monroe's few true confidants in Britain. But it's not a friendship built to last. Marilyn is quickly breaking down from her director and costar's angry and demanding nature, while Colin's romantic feelings for Marilyn develop alarmingly fast.
There are aspects to both the filmmaking process and Colin and Marilyn's relationship that work, but neither work completely. Shooting The Sleeping Prince seems like a real slog. Marilyn is obviously a big reason why, though she's not the only one. Olivier is perhaps unreasonable toward her from the start. It's as if he knew what to expect and never really gave her a proper chance. Though they don't share many scenes together, their dynamic is almost always front and center, and it's a relationship I found interesting, if not wholly engrossing.
The relationship between Colin and Marilyn is of a different sort, and by and large, it's unremarkable. But Eddie Redmayne, of all people, layers it in a surprising way. Throughout the film, Colin acts like a martyr to the cause, an angelic golden boy, a passionate cinephile who's dedicated to his job, no matter the costs. But once he and Marilyn begin spending time together, he becomes a very sexual creature. He lusts for her in such an indescribable way that he'll even defy his bosses if it means staying in Marilyn's good graces. It's an interesting take on a very familiar character and relationship, and though I don't think it ultimately goes too far, it enhances My Week with Marilyn's middle third quite a bit, elevating it above being barely watchable to being moderately recommendable.
Williams, unfortunately, does the film no favors. She's definitely better than Theresa Russell, who mimicked Monroe in Nicholas Roeg's Insignificance. But for an actress who's as close to Hollywood royalty as we have right now, this performance is a big disappointment. It doesn't detract from the film, but she doesn't really make it better either.
Kenneth Branagh, like Williams, earned an Oscar nomination for his work in the film. He, too, is relatively unremarkable, but at least he's not asked to carry the film. There are a few very funny moments during which he freaks out on set, but his attempts at earnestness just don't work.
My Week with Marilyn goes through the motions to such a degree that one can't help but be turned off by it. Without a noticeable style or a really unique hook, the film is just another tepid romance and a kind of blah behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking process. A missed opportunity is what it really is, and though Williams' accolades ensured it was be seen by a good deal of people, I wish those people went to bat for her earlier last year in Blue Valentine, a great film with a great Williams performance, instead.