When My Week with Marilyn was announced, I was a bit pessimistic. I have a soft spot for Marilyn and am very critical of all Marilyn portrayals. I find most people tend to either do the voice too high-pitch or too breathy, while her actual voice was a combination of the two. Michelle Williams does more than an imitation, she completely embraces Marilyn as a character and gives a honest performance as one of the most famous women who ever lived. My only real complaint with her performance is that it is wasted on a movie that covers such a short period of her life.
My Week with Marilyn is about her time filming The Prince and the Showgirl, which was directed by her co-star Laurence Olivier. Apparently she befriended a member of the crew, a young man named Colin, who later wrote about his time with world’s biggest movie star. Marilyn had high hopes for the film and what it would do for her reputation as an actress, but the finished product was forgettable. As Colin explains, Marilyn was hoping this would make her a respected actress and Olivier was hoping it would make him a star, but the material was not strong enough to help either party.
Marilyn’s lack of professionalism is very well known. She would show up hours late and would repeatedly blow even the simplest lines. Williams does a great job recapturing Marilyn’s helplessness as she knowingly flubs her lines. It’s surprising that for all her success as a film actress, she still had a hard time making words come out of her mouth naturally. However, the camera loved her, as demonstrated by the scene where she dances. I found myself wondering if she would have been a better fit in the music video age. They also show the people that she was surrounded by, subtly impling that these are the people who ruined her, forever stroking her, constantly shoving pills in her mouth to fix whatever problem she had the moment. The poor dear brought an acting coach along, to help her get in character for a fluffy romantic comedy where she plays a showgirl! Sadly Marilyn was most likely that cringeworthy drunk girl at every college party.
What Marilyn excels at is seduction, but it is clear she doesn’t know what to do once she gets whoever she’s after at the moment. Marilyn arrives on set, newly married but all ready miserable. She’s obviously ashamed that she’s all ready been married three times but is quick to start a fling with the most doting man on the set. It becomes clear that Marilyn is constantly in need of being rescued but never does anything to make her situation better, so no matter what you do, she’s going to need you to save her again. This is exhausting for accomplished men like Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, but a kid working on his first film has plenty of energy. However, it’s the men that bend over backwards the most for her, that she grows tired of the quickest.
Laurence Olivier comes off as a total egotistical jerk. He had been in a stage version of The Prince and the Showgirl with his wife Vivien Leigh, but replaced Leigh in the film with Marilyn because his wife was too old. It’s also heavily implied that he fully intended on having an affair with her on the set. Leigh and Marilyn have an interesting dynamic because Leigh was the old “it girl” who is losing her place to Marilyn. Being pushed out by the younger generation is something Marilyn never experience.
I would recommend this film for Williams performance alone. It is the strongest portrayal of a women everyone wanted to know more about.