November 7, 2011




MY WEEK WITH MARILYN:  Worth A Ticket – Michelle Williams is Spectacular, Movie Is Fine


Harvey Weinstein has two movies on the way in the next couple of months featuring actresses who are presumptively in line for Oscar consideration: The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.  Let’s take a look at the signals Mr. Weinstein may be sending out about which movie he’s favoring, based on his actions in connection with both films yesterday.  On Sunday night, Weinstein personally introduced Marilyn to the packed house at Grauman’s Chinese for the AFI Film Festival, and brought Williams with him, even though she was due in Chicago at 4AM this morning for a very early call on her new Wizard of Oz movie.  He also had a Steinway grand piano schlepped to the front of the Chinese just so celebrated concert pianist Lang Lang could come in for 5 minutes (before rushing to his own LA Philharmonic concert downtown) and play the theme music from the movie for the gathered crowd.


Oh, and he postponed the opening of The Iron Lady until virtually the last possible date it’s even eligible for Oscar consideration, December 30.


So the fair-haired child is clearly Williams and My Week With Marilyn (although where Best Picture is concerned, it’s probably still The Artist).  And although it would be foolish to dismiss any work by Meryl Streep sight unseen, it’s fair to say that she’ll have her hands full trying to unseat Williams, whose work is quite dazzling, an astonishing channeling of Monroe that is without doubt one of the thrilling performances of the year.

My Week With Marilyn is based on the real-life recollections of Colin Clark (played in the film by Eddie Redmayne), an assistant director on the unexceptional 1956 comedy The Prince and the Showgirl that starred and was directed by Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).  Clark became the liaison between the production and the very difficult and troubled Monroe, and for a short time he was her confidante and perhaps more (the movie is a bit ambiguous on this score).  In the course of this time, he fell in love both with show business and with the ultimately unattainable star.

The narrative track of Marilyn is actually quite similar to the 2008 Me and Orson Welles.  In that one, Zac Efron was the young innocent learning about the theatre from a legend (Christian McKay as Welles), as well as about the vagaries of love from someone older and more experienced (Claire Danes).  Although McKay gave a superb performance, the movie went nowhere, probably because sadly the Welles name doesn’t mean much to audiences anymore.  Marilyn Monroe, though, has retained her cultural fascination (not to mention that she looked a lot better than Welles in a tight dress), and with Williams’ remarkable performance, Marilyn has a much better chance of breaking through.

Screenwriter Adrian Hodges and director Simon Curtis both come out of British TV, and their work is professional and compelling without being exciting:  along his way, young Colin meets his share of colorful movie people like Judi Dench as Sybil Thorndike (to much better advantage than as Hoover’s mother in J. Edgar), Dominic Cooper as Monroe’s producer Milton Greene, Toby Jones as her publicist Arthur Jacobs (he would go on to produce the original Planet of the Apes movies, among others), Julia Ormond as Olivier’s then-wife Vivien Leigh, Zoe Wanamaker as Monroe’s acting coach Paula Strasberg, and so on.  He’s forced into high-pressure situations and has to prove himself.  There’s a “nice girl” (Emma Watson, in her first substantial non-Hermoine role) for him to like but abandon for the sake of Marilyn.  Colin is dazzled, and then hurt, and finally stronger for the experience.  All of this is pretty much a by-the-book coming of age taleThe movie’s portrayal of Monroe, too, doesn’t have any particular surprises.  She’s insecure, voraciously needy, in love with her then-new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and even more with the high culture he represents (this was the time when she was thinking of appearing in “The Brothers Karamazov” on Broadway), but not loyal to him.  (Nor is he to her, in the way that counts–he’s writing cruel “fiction” based on her.)   She’s untrained and essentially unskilled as an actress, but the camera ravishes and is ravished by her.  One of the sharpest lines of the script notes that she hoped working with Olivier would turn her from a movie star into a real actress, and Olivier hoped working with her would change him from a great actor into a star, and neither was likely to happen.  (They didn’t; The Prince and the Showgirl was a flop.)

All of this is familiar Monroeiana, but it’s never been captured with such conviction and complexity as Williams conveys in her portrayal.  She doesn’t do an imitation; her breathy voice and mannerisms suggest, rather than duplicate, Monroe.  (Although the recreations of actual scenes from Prince and the Showgirl are unerring.)   It’s so easy to overdo Monroe, but Williams never falls into that trap –one of the movie’s best moments has her asking if she should do “Marilyn” for a gathered crowd and then launching into her own trademark gestures–and instead suggests the troubled, increasingly desperate mind behind the eyes of the icon.

Williams’ performance is the real thing, and if the movie that surrounds her doesn’t quite rise to her level, it’s still a pleasure to watch.  The pace is brisk at 99 minutes, the hair, costume and make-up staffs have done an marvelous job of turning Williams into Marilyn Monroe, and other technical credits are first-rate as well (it’s a particularly nice touch to see how Ben Smithard’s cinematography changes to match the actual 1950s color look of The Prince and the Showgirl in scenes from the film-within-the-film).

My Week With Marilyn may only be a vehicle, but what a driver!  It’s an entertaining, reasonably intelligent and well-crafted film that preserves one of the year’s jewel performances at its center.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."