The life of a celebrity (regardless of what they are famous for or what era we may be in) is a confounding and, at times, seemingly crazy circus of people, cameras, and lights. We have seen it with the young starlets rising (and falling) today to those featured in films like Country Strong, which try and show what it is like to live in the eye of that storm. Surrounded by yes-men and an unquestioned supply of pills, you begin to wonder what is fantasy and what is reality. In the trailer for My Week With Marilyn we see Marilyn (Michelle Williams) ask Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) if she “should be her,” meaning what the public thinks of when they think of Marilyn Monroe – the eyes, the lips, and the hips – hinting at the idea that there is more to Marilyn when she lets you behind that closed dressing room door.
Based on the real-life memoirs of Clark, My Week With Marilyn follows Colin as he falls in love for the first time – with both filmmaking and a beautiful woman. Growing up in a successful and pressure-filled family, Colin found solace at the theater and decided he wanted to pursue a career in the film business. After refusing to take no for an answer (and thanks to his puppy dog eyes that charmed any woman in his path), Colin landed a job as the third Assistant Director on Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) film, The Prince and the Showgirl, starring none other than Marilyn Monroe.
While Colin is eager to prove himself during his first days on set, the crew struggles to get Marilyn to show up on time (or at all), stalling production and increasingly irritating Olivier. Insisting on needing her acting coach Paula (Zoë Wanamaker), Marilyn’s first day on set kicks off with her looking absolutely terrified, and Olivier’s anger over what he perceived to be rude and unprofessional behavior only exasperates matters. After a falling-out with her then-husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), Marilyn turns to Colin for comfort and company.
Naturally, those on set assume that the two are beginning an affair, with Marilyn constantly (if inadvertently) making all the women around her insecure when, in truth, she was probably more insecure than all of them combined. Hints are made towards her childhood of rejection and feeling unwanted and how that has permeated into her adult life of needing constant reassurance and the inability to be alone. Everyone from Marilyn’s producing partner (Dominic Cooper) to her bodyguard to Olivier himself warns Colin not to get in too deep with her, and even though Colin rushes to her side whenever she demands it, he begins to heed those warnings enough to let Marilyn reveal what she wants and to simply be an ear or shoulder to cry on. When pressed to tell her the truth and prove that he is on her side of things, Colin sums up the struggles on set as Olivier being a “great actor who wants to be a film star while Marilyn was a film star, wanting to be a great actor.”
Even in their more private moments together, it is difficult to tell if Marilyn is actually revealing her true self to Colin or just playing another part. Ping-ponging from childish vulnerability one moment to unapologetic sex appeal in the next, it is hard to tell who is the “real” Marilyn, or if she even knows herself. Yet, Redmayne’s Colin does not seem to mind the nebulous nature of the Marilyn he is spending time with, and Williams puts that same spell on the audience. Even in his most frustrated moments, Olivier comments that when Marilyn gets it right, “you don’t want to look at anyone else.” Williams is brilliant in the role, slipping into Marilyn’s skin as if it was her own and capturing that essence Olivier, Colin, and everyone else as was so transfixed by and envious of.
When Colin’s week with the ingénue ends, he is neither bitter nor remorseful, simply accepting that his moment with Marilyn is over, watching her car drive away from him with the same wide-eyed enamor he did before getting to know her, just happy to have been a part of her word for a brief time. And in the end, despite their struggles, Marilyn and Olivier seem to push each other as they had each hoped and end up finding even more success after their film together, with Marilyn’s career in film and Olivier’s on the stage. We may never truly know Marilyn, but it seems that is part of what drew people to her – the constant mystery and intrigue that is both maddening and intoxicating.
The Upside: If you want to watch a true love letter to old school Hollywood (or simply watch Michelle Williams shine), add this to your must-see fall movie list. Even without their “faces on,” everyone in the film radiates and draws you right in to their world.
The Downside: With a stellar cast including Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, and Emma Watson, it is almost a shame they do not get more screen time, but in a film all about Marilyn, their limited supporting roles make sense.
On the Side: Williams’ proves she is not only a captivating actress, she can sing too, with her vocals featured in the film and the soundtrack on the songs “I Found A Dream,” “That Old Black Magic,” and a medley of “When Love Goes Wrong,” “Nothin’ Goes Right,” and “Heat Wave.”