We're highly aware it's often incredibly reductive and unfair when TV-like criticisms -- small in scope, episodic in nature, unsubstantial -- are lobbied at small screen directors making their feature-film debut like this one, Simon Curtis (a BBC director known for "Cranford," "Five Days" and "David Copperfield"), but this shoe unfortunately fits very squarely. A large part of the problem is the screenplay and source material. Based on the books, "The Prince, The Showgirl and Me" and the memoir "My Week with Marilyn," by Colin Clark -- a third assistant director on the British set of 1956's Laurence Olivier-directed "The Prince and the Showgirl, which starred Olivier and Marilyn Monroe -- the source material not only seems remarkably dubious, but thin. This fleeting and airy fairy tale doesn't seem like a story substantial enough to merit a feature film (though maybe a movie on TV would suffice) and the screenplay by Adrian Hodges does little to help to give the story much import. Also, featuring a delusional lead (Clark), it's a hard one to root for.
The film’s lead, one Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), sets foot on British soil for the first time not only to star in the picture, but to vacation on her honeymoon with new husband, celebrated playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). With Monroe making her maiden voyage to England, the press is typically frenzied and the public nearly insatiable. The predictable chaos of flashbulb-shot footage ensues.
And while the film within the film and Monroe are struggling to find their footing, Clark begins to enter the starlet's inner circle, which includes her distrustful and enabling press agent Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper). Mostly, it’s by chance; as Olivier’s frustration and impatience with Monroe builds, Clark is often sent to fetch Monroe in her make-shift trailer to see if she’s ready, and a friendly bond begins to grow. Securing that connection is circumstance; Arthur Miller, at his wits' end with his new bride, travels back to New York, and Monroe becomes even more vulnerable and needy, with Clark inadvertently starting to fill the role of warm and friendly man in her life. And during those sometimes brief moments together, innocent mistakes – Clark accidentally bumps into the star stark naked when looking for a script in her room – begin to take on “isn’t he cute?” friendly tones that build to camaraderie, affection, companionship and, eventually, a skewed kind of illusive love.
For Williams, the challenges are immeasurable. Her interpretation of Monroe is flighty and soft, a romantic dreamer with deep-seated issues behind the glamorous veneer, but the script doesn’t allow her character to go very deep. That screenplay also offers next to no insight into the personality of Monroe that you haven’t read a thousand times – the toll of stardom was too much, she was needy, she had emotional issues, she was a pill addict, etc. Wiliams does a commendable job at impersonating the icon without veering into grotesque pantomime, but it’s not the kind of stunning performance we’ve witnessed from her of late, and certainly not her best in recent years. While the Weinstein Company will likely throw all their muscle behind the actress for a Best Actress Oscar nom, based on quality alone, she’s far from a lock (though it's so pleasingly middle of the road, like "The King's Speech," the picture and her performance could therefore end up being a strong contender).
Musically, 'Marilyn' is problematic as well to the point of distraction. While Alexandre Desplat does provide the lovely theme, Conrad Pope -- mainly an orchestrator who has worked several times with John Williams ("Minority Report," "A.I.," "The Adventures of Tintin") -- takes the composing center stage, mostly filling the drama with "isn't this all so delightful?" musical cues. Of course there's also, "isn't this sad?" and "isn't this a dreadfully serious pickle we've gotten ourselves into?" but none of these motifs do the film any favors.
"My Week With Marilyn," is not terrible, it's got a terrific cast who do their best with average material, and its engaging enough, and tolerable enough, that in some circles it will be seen as a big crowdpleaser, but there’s very little meat on the bone. It’s charitably capable and its decent performances make it relatively absorbing at times, but ultimately "My Week With Marilyn" is fluff of the superficial type, a valiant misstep for Williams, and a minor and inconsequential work regardless of its place among the Oscar hopefuls vying for position this fall. [C]
This is a reprint of our review from the New York Film Festival.