I have been traveling and working in the
My Week with Marilyn is based on the diaries and memoir by Colin Clark, “The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me” and "My Week With Marilyn"(he was 3rd Assistant Director on The Prince and the Showgirl), where he recounts his short-term, but supposed deep connection to the most famous of movie stars: Marilyn Monroe, played with pure conviction here by Michelle Williams. In 1956, she embarked on a project with Laurence Olivier (played by Kenneth Brannagh), pairing the two of them in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), with Olivier in fact behind the camera as well as in front. Olivier's film is a rather bland confection, but Clark’s memoir (he was 3rd Assistant Director on the film), and My Week With Marilyn, documents the story of Monroe’s difficulty to work with Olivier during the production, her troubles with her new marriage to Henry Miller, and the rather odd and fortuitous (for Clark) relationship with the young Clark during the making of the film. Many of the best and most interesting scenes in the film involve Marilyn, her Method acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), and Olivier as they fuss and fight over work styles. For fans of classic cinema, these scenes are absolutely delicious fun.
I don’t normally go for films like this. I found last year’s The King’s Speech (2010) to be rather as expected, not containing many surprises. There might be something more to My Week With Marilyn though. This is not a “biopic”, which is usually meant to portray the entire life and breadth of a key figure. Instead, this film captures a short term glimpse of a star and is not subjective to the baggage of normal biopics, with the usual length and sogginess that comes with trying to capture everything. This is a film from
Clark’s perspective looking at Marilyn Monroe, not the internal perspective of Marilyn looking outward. We never really encounter Marilyn except in the presence of Clark, or sometimes Olivier as well. In this way, Marilyn remains at a distance from us just as initially Clark is at a distance from her. When Clark is brought inter her inner circle, we have the privilege of going there with him. It is the paralleled point of view of Clark and the audience that maintains this important synergy. What in fact makes the movie succeed is this rather strict and intentional point of view that allows the audience to maintain a link with the subjective source of the material, rather than become distanced as objective observers of the proceedings. Clark is a rather blank canvas of sorts. We project ourselves into his shoes and we become Clark through this point of view. It’s not that we are flies on the wall. We are, in fact, this young man. He, in essence, lived out what millions of people would consider their greatest fantasy: to spend intimate moments with a mega star. Be it Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Michelle Williams (or whomever), there surely are times when moviegoers or fans have dreamed about what it would be like to meet such a person. I’ve wondered myself what it would be like if I could go back in time and have lunch with Garbo. What would I say? What would I do? My Week With Marilyn allows us to realize such a fantasy and put us right in the middle of it. Of course, what's in it for Marilyn? It's all mostly a trifle with nothing behind it. She is directionless, drugged, and utterly tragic and despairing. Clark gets to enact his rather selfish fantasy. But, Marilyn remains the exploited one in all of this. Where is her solace to be found?
Of course here is where we must have a discussion of Michelle Williams. I’m beginning to wonder whether I should turn my entire blog into a Michelle Williams fan page as I’ve already written about her glorious acting in Blue Valentine (2010) and Meek’s Cutoff (2010) and my vote of approval at this point is rather redundant. However, I must admit that normally when I see an actor or actress take a role such as this, I tend to think of it as a sellout. In this case though, I feel like Williams has paid her dues. She’s done the indie films and the small pictures and created tremendous work along the way. Thus, I think she deserved this role and the chance to shine for the masses. I think Williams has earned all the accolades she will get for this role. Whether it’s her greatest performance or not isn’t a point to bicker on. It will likely be her iconic performance though. It will be the one she is remembered for by most people many years from now. As Monroe, Williams rightly stays far from any sense of caricature. She doesn’t play it too big, which allows the audience to sympathize with her humanity, and there is a deep humility and respect at the core of the performance that provides a transparency even though Marilyn remains rather enigmatic. It’s brilliant stuff all the way.
Whether all of this really happened back in 1956 is beside the point. The conceit works whether it’s truth or fiction. I would probably be so inclined to believe that with decades in hindsight,
Clark’s memoir (which I haven’t read yet) would be highly subjective to the haze that envelope memories as they grow old. I actually think the film tends to capture the golden glow of such memories to the point that the film is rather absurdly glossy. This is not a flaw. On the contrary, if the film were to enact a greater sense of importance or realism, it could have become far too soggy. By keeping the glossy and glowing look, it gives greater weight to the subjective point of view and perspective, and I personally could care less whether the story is true or completely fabricated. It works cinematically, and that's my main concern. Although it’s clearly not the best film of the year, it is one of the best films of its kind and in my world there is room for films like this.