By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 10, 2011 at 4:34AM
The New York Film Festival is in full swing, reaching its midpoint Sunday with the centerpiece gala, Simon Curtis's My Week with Marilyn. Telluride eagerly wanted to book the film, but Curtis was working with distributor Harvey Weinstein on adding material and the film wasn't finished in time; in fact the filmmaker was fiddling until the last possible minute.
The final result My Week with Marilyn is a charming slice of Hollywood history, the 1957 Pinewood Studio filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, told from the POV of young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a lowly assistant director who is besotted with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). (Adrian Hodges adapted the film from Clark's two memoirs.) Actor-director Laurence Olivier (a wily Kenneth Branagh) is frustrated and stymied by the actress's insecurity and lateness; Clark steps in to try and handle her, along with her manager (Dominic Cooper) and method acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker). Dame Judi Dench has a yummy supporting role as another Dame, Sybil Thornton.
The movie is exactly what you'd expect: a well-mounted period fantasy about a young man's brief fling with the sexiest Hollywood movie star ever, who inevitably winds up returning to her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). As a romance, it's delightful; I watched it with a smile. It's commercially accessible entertainment for the adult art house crowd. And it should play well for Academy actors as well. (A review round-up is below.)
On the other hand, critics may be tough on it. Williams brings the film's only depth; she carries off Monroe's allure while tapping into her neurosis and sadness. The actors' branch has rewarded Williams with nominations twice in the past (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine) and in a weak year for leading actresses, may well do so again. Monroe herself, while she was nominated for two BAFTAs, one as best foreign actress for The Prince and the Showgirl, was never nominated for an Oscar.
The culture-clash element slips in and out of focus in Hodges’ script, bringing only obvious insights to the incompatibility between seasoned British professionals and an unschooled actress whose fragility was equal to her fame. The film finds more texture, if not much more substance, in the delicate quasi-romance at its center between Marilyn and Colin (Eddie Redmayne)… While there are no startling new insights, she harnesses the essence of Marilyn as a fully sexualized being and a lost girl caught up in something she both needs and fears.
My Week With Marilyn is exactly the type of tolerably superficial crowdpleaser that it looks like. Lacking the meaty role she may have hoped for, Michelle Williams delivers an airy interpretation of Marilyn Monroe without digging too deep into the persona. Her one-note performance matches a movie less invested in the reality of the material than style of it, not pulling back the veil on Monroe but smothering it to death with the familiar polish of a tame show business comedy…The prospects of any actress, even a usually dexterous one like Williams, meeting the expectations of the role while moving beyond them makes for a near impossible task.
Marked by an admirable, but certainly not spectacular performance by Michelle Williams—in a role she’s arguably not very suited for—some wonderful costuming, set design and locations, and a stand-out supporting turn by Judi Dench, there aren’t many other favorable things to say about My Week With Marilyn, a slight drama with a reputable cast, that still feels through and through like a superficial Lifetime made for TV-movie.
Not that you're surprised, but Williams is perfection as Ms. Monroe. She nails the nuance and subtlety of the role -- which really requires three different personalities: the public Marilyn Monroe, the private Marilyn Monroe and the part in The Princess and the Showgirl..Williams is the least showy aspect of the film, an astonishing fact since so many portrayals of Monroe border on cartoon. You can tell the work she put into this performance: not just with the voice, mannerisms and attitude, but with the eyes,..For a movie about a forbidden love with one of Hollywood's biggest and most inscrutable stars, My Week With Marilyn feels too professional. It's all too safe. Like The King's Speech, it's as gorgeous as a still photograph -- the film never moves.
Michelle Williams effortlessly evokes the tragic icon's layers of insecurity and hopeless romanticism that slip into fits of manic depression… Williams's magical transformation into Marilyn Monroe is uncanny; you never question it for a moment. Although the movie has its weak spots--Julia Ormond gives a one-note portrayal of Vivian Leigh, and Zoe Wanamaker veers toward caricature as Paula Strasberg--Michelle Williams delivers a deftly multi-dimensional character study built on truthfulness and soul. My Week With Marilyn isn’t just a gem; it’s a diamond.
The good thing about her work is that though she does not try to impersonate the iconic figure, she very much captures the essence of Marilyn the movie star—if not the “real life” woman; the faults are in the writing rather than in her acting,..At the risk of sounding too critical, may I suggest that those who know Marilyn’s life and Hollywood history of the 1950s, will be vastly disappointed, for the movie doesn’t contain a single note, or fresh observation, which are not already familiar from the vast, mythic lore (and folklore) of docus, books, biographies, memoirs, and albums about the legendary star.
But in spite of a fairly mediocre movie around her, Michelle Williams gives a performance that is, simply, beyond. Like Charlize Theron’s turn in Monster, this is not something you will see again from Williams. But also like Theron, Williams embodies her character completely, never showing herself to be an imitator, even as we can hear and see so many similarities. She becomes a woman who might well have been Marilyn Monroe. She floats and seduces and loses all the life in her eyes and body and in way that is oh so rare, becomes an enigma that you can’t stop watching.
Michelle Williams as Marilyn is that good. Sexy, vulnerable, fragile, alluring, seductive, delectable, complex, and all things in between, she nails it and certainly has claimed a spot among the top five if not frontrunner status for the Oscar itself. She also flawlessly sings a couple of Monroe standards as bookends for the film. Marilyn herself never managed to get any kind of Oscar recognition. Now, oddly, Monroe and her unique appeal could figure strongly in the 2011 Best Actress race as channeled through Michelle Williams,..[It is] one of the most purely entertaining films I’ve seen so far this year.