By Joan Ellis
My Week With Marilyn opens with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) stepping from a plane into a sea of London flashbulbs. She has come to make a movie, The Prince and the Showgirl, with Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh.) Have you ever in your movie going life imagined a less likely combination than Sir Lawrence and Marilyn Monroe? Speaking of unlikely pairings, she arrives with new husband, playwright Arthur Miller and is hustled off to an English cottage where, remarkably, she is left alone until Olivier assigns young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) to watch over her while Miller is away.
It’s love on sight for poor Colin but a real break for Marilyn whose new protector would jump from the Tower of London if asked. The movie is a tossed salad of Monroe’s collapses, tantrums, and edicts – dressed with a vulnerability that seems irresistible to some. The sporadic fun of the movie comes with the reactions of the marvelous British actors who pop up along the way.
Their reactions to Monroe range from idolatry to sarcasm, all delivered in the best British manner. But one thing is certain: she is the focus in any room, on any stage. As a true professional, a grumpy, perhaps jealous Sir Lawrence rails that she is late to the set, unprepared, and ill-equipped, but does any of that matter? Not a bit. It is Dame Sybil Thorndike (a wonderful Judy Dench) who tells the legendary actor that when Monroe is on screen no one else matters, not even him, because everyone is looking only at her. That, of course, is the big question: the why of Marilyn Monroe.
In very short order we learn that Michelle Williams was right to take the role of this strange comet that flashed across the Hollywood sky in the ’50s looking always for men who would protect her. Alluring to some, baffling to others, insufferable to many, Monroe is a tough assignment and Williams succeeds mightily. Then why, you may wonder, is this movie about Monroe so lifeless? Certainly it is not the fault of Michelle Williams or the glittering cast that surrounds her. It’s the elusive nature of Monroe herself. We watch the mercurial, emotional, self-absorbed star who creates chaos with every move and wonder if there is really anything interesting or compelling about her except her volatility. Not really, I think.
What’s more fun here is a lovely performance by Eddie Redmayne. His Colin is a young star-struck Brit who through sheer perseverance becomes third assistant director in charge of caretaking Monroe. She flirts with him and he absorbs it with love. For a week he becomes her reliable toy in the turmoil. Kenneth Branagh has little choice but to be an aggrieved Sir Lawrence. Williams dazzles as the Hollywood sex symbol, but to enliven a movie, Monroe herself needed to be more than she was. She needed to be a fascinating mystery, and she never was.