On Sunday I attended two screenings of the new Simon Curtis film “My Week with Marilyn” at Lincoln Center. Despite seeing the film twice in a row, I still have a hard time figuring out the film. There’s the basics…its based two memoirs “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me”, first hand accounts via Colin Clark, a 3rd assistant director who was briefly allowed into Marilyn’s life during the England filming of “The Prince and the Show Girl”. Colin is ‘let into Marilyn’s life’ (accounts relating to Marilyn they are usually based more in fantasy than fact), as confident amongst her turmoil and Colin (played by Eddie Redmayne) of course falls in love with icon. I found myself so captivated by Michelle William’s portrayal of Marilyn and Simon Curtis’s direction that the plotline became secondary to me…except I guess not because the whole theme of the movie is an account of an encounter with Marilyn. It turns out it is same for the movie-goer, it’s your encounter with Michelle’s Marilyn…the rest of the film at times feels like filler.
“The Prince and the Showgirl” isn’t the best or worst Marilyn movie, nor does it have the most behind-the-scenes drama. There is however, some notable background on “the Prince and the Showgirl”, some touched upon in Simon Curtis’s film, and some glazed over.. It’s the first and last “Marilyn Monroe Productions” film. Marilyn fought against the studio to gain the freedom and creative control to do a project that she believed ‘would take her seriously’. She is newly married to the very serious Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), and becomes newly untrusting of him upon finding a notebook of his that portrays her unfavorably. She is costarring and under the direction of the very serious Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh)..among other stage actors such as Dame Sybill Thorndike (Judi Dench). It’s her first time in the UK. She is struggling with a pregnancy that fails. The film is about a glimpse and a crossroads into Marilyn’s life and Marilyn culturally. It seems appropriate that “My Week with Marilyn” is based on her time in the UK..because much of contemporary critical discussion and scholarship on Marilyn Monroe is based on the UK.
“My Week with Marilyn” is the most heartfelt attempt to understand Marilyn Monroe that I’ve seen in a motion picture, despite at times the questionable credibility of the initial text. Michelle Williams doesn’t physically look all that much like Marilyn. Marilyn is hard to physically capture, and there are others with a greater likeness…but personality wise..Michelle finds Marilyn. I agree with other critics that Michelle falls short of..performing Marilyn performing Marilyn (i..in her scenes recreating “The Prince and the Showgirl”), but at times if you blur your eyes, catch a profile, angle, a walk or an expression you see moments candor or pain where you feel like you are actually seeing something more real than a publicity shot of the real Marilyn Monroe with a her white dress blowing up over her head. One of my favorite parts of the film is when Michelle as Marilyn goes “shall I be her?” and turns the Marilyn persona on. This is seen in the trailer of the film, but like the trailer of the original “Prince and the Showgirl”…this trailer doesn’t remotely depict what “My Week with Marilyn” is about. Both film’s trailers are marketed as steamy romances, and both films barely have romance, all of it is in the trailers. The films are about basic interaction between very different people on a much more subtle level.
Monroe’s image is so culturally and commercially saturated that it is a constant quest to find who Marilyn really is. She hid it well, from herself included. Yet..through another actress..…we are seeing facets of Marilyn that the public rarely sees, let alone on a big screen in color and high quality. To me that was the most surreal part of the film iswhen one of those moments happened, and much like a CGI Dior commercial with dead old hollywood icons saying ‘Dior’, it appears to defy history. It seems fitting that we are almost able to catch some of the real Marilyn…in 2011..and through another actress from the point of view of another person from another generation and from another continent. As the mercurial queen of facades, persona, and self-molding….it’s only appropriate that through many other mirrors and people…. We think we see the real Marilyn Monroe…at least for a few moments. “My Week with Marilyn” is worth seeing to try to catch those moments….and to give a little more insight and care to Marilyn that the contemporary audiences are usually neglected of….but as always be careful, this is ‘BASED on a true story. Especially with Marilyn, what you see is rarely what you get, but at least at times in this film…..you do get something.
“My Week with Marilyn” will be released on November 4th in the United States and November 18th in the United Kingdom.