Simon Curtis’s My Week With Marilyn premiered tonight at the New York Film Festival and was greeted with thunderous applause. This thoroughly delightful film boasts a pedigreed cast including Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne (a Tony winner for Red), Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Julia Ormond, and Emma Watson. Based on a memoir and journals by Colin Clark, it follows the shooting of 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl, on which Clark was the 3rd A.D.
I admit to being a big fan of Marilyn Monroe. Some Like It Hot was one of my early movie memories, and every time I watch it I fall in love with her all over again. Her story is also extremely interesting in examining issues of the self, persona, and constructed femininity. The Marilyn Monroe persona was created by both Norma Jean Mortenson and the Hollywood machine, and I used to always wonder how the real woman felt when she was just being “herself.”
This film attempts to answer that question: who was the “real” Marilyn? Was it the lost little girl who wanted to be rescued by Colin Clark? Was it the giddy small-town girl with a sad past? Or was it the insufferable diva who binged on pills and liquor and showed up late to every call? By the end of the film, we get the sense that no one really knows – when Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) says, “she doesn’t know who [the character] is,” it is clear that this also refers to Marilyn herself. Even she doesn’t know who she is.
Much has been made of Michelle Williams’s makeover for this film. The costuming and makeup are fantastic – Marilyn’s inimitable hips are seamlessly reconstructed on top of Ms. Williams’s petite frame. Her performance, however, is the real transformation. Although her features are so different, whenever she moves or looks a certain way or delivers a line, Marilyn is there. In a performance far beyond simple mimicry, she gives off that same luminous quality that made Marilyn so famous and irresistible.
The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Kenneth Branagh, a longtime favorite of mine, gives a delightfully witty portrayal of Laurence Olivier. Never has Olivier’s speech sounded so affected as when it comes out of Branagh’s mouth. Eddie Redmayne is the ultimate in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as Colin Clark, giving off just enough gravitas to be believable in a 23-year-old. Finally, Dame Judi Dench is wonderful in a small role as the older co-star who tries to give Marilyn some confidence.
This crowd-pleaser of a film caters to the pop culture buffs in us all. Yes, the script smacks too much of hindsight at times, but it addresses Marilyn’s case in a perceptive, meditative manner. My Week with Marilyn treats its subject as the complex, confused person and actress that she was, rather than “the best piece of ass in the world,” as her publicist calls her. At one point, Marilyn asks, “Shall I be her?” and we know exactly what she means.