Man do I love Meryl Streep, but this is the first time I think I'll ever admit that she was not the one robbed of this year's Academy Award for Best Actress. In My Week with Marilyn, Michelle Williams is Marilyn Monroe. It is one of those rare performances where it feels like you really are back in 1956, watching Monroe shimmy her way into one of the grandest limelights Hollywood may ever see kindled. Swap the footage of Monroe making her dramatic, yet effortlessly mesmerizing, departure from the airline stairs upon her arrival in London with the clip in the film and you'll kid yourself trying to find a difference.
But that chilling feeling of seeing Monroe resurrected on the screen again is even more penetrating as you watch Williams divulge the enigma of what it was really like to be Marilyn Monroe. Yes, she'll show you how Marilyn could twirl and sashay in a sequined dress, how she had a smile and a wink that made one too many men woozy, how she had an airiness in her expression that could make anyone giddy, but a wit to sharpen that naïve tone -- a wit that really does make you think that she always knew exactly what she was doing. However, more importantly, Williams also introduces us to a woman named Marilyn, a woman who is quite removed from the glamorous young starlet called Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn is unsure about herself. She wants to be a great actress more than anything else, but she has doubts and she constantly questions whether her ability really measures up to what the media likes to call "natural talent."
A story about Marilyn Monroe's first trip to London, My Week with Marilyn offers a realistic look into Monroe's struggle to get through Sir Laurence Olivier's (Kenneth Branagh) film, The Prince and the Showgirl, as a great actress, and the peculiar relationship that developed between her and Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a film student who grubbed the spot of third assistant director. Through her burgeoning relationship with Colin, the idol of Marilyn Monroe begins to crack as Williams shows you that fame and beauty do not always make a pretty picture.
Perplexed as to why Marilyn would desire to spend so much time with Colin, a young man in his early 20s with little to no experience in show business, Olivier and Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper), the celebrity photographer, scoff at Clark. Greene tells him that there is nothing special about him; that "She breaks hearts. She'll break yours, too." But he wasn't entirely correct. Of course, she broke Clark's heart like all of the others; however, unlike the others, he was different. His youthful innocence and sincere concern for the state of Marilyn's being marked Clark as a man worth relying on.
In developing whatever brief relationship he held with Monroe, Clark, nonetheless, had the chance to meet the real Marilyn, a woman who was shockingly different than the pizzazz of her stage affectation. This starlet was born to a mother who was placed in an insane asylum and a father who was unidentified; she had no real childhood, and the abandonment that deeply plagued her as a child was carried with her into adulthood.
Another part of Marilyn's disposition that often went undervalued by the media was her genuine desire to be a great actress. Something she struggled with at the peak of her career in 1956 was getting Olivier, along with other crew members, to realize that she was not just some sex symbol who would saunter into a crowded room, flash a smile and provide a golden performance. She cared about technique, about the precision of movement and the accuracy of lines, which is why she was often frustrated on-set and took more time than the patience of many could endure. She was a great starlet, but she wanted to be a great actress.
In a state of utter despair, Williams as Monroe whispers to Clark "People always see Marilyn Monroe. As soon as they realize I'm not her, they run," underscoring the frustration Monroe battled as she faced the incongruities between the person she wanted to be and the image of her that had been ingrained in peoples' minds, an image of glamour, lusty mystery and joie de vivre.
During the scene where Monroe and Clark are met by a crowd of swooned and enlightened fans, she turns to Clark and states the question "Shall I be her?" as if she has already made up her mind. She shimmies for the crowd and swerves her hips, flashes that wide-mouthed-pearly-white smile and sensually places her index finger over her red lips. What better way is there to show a struggle with identity and fame than to deliver a scene where your greatest character, greatest performance, and even better imitation, is of yourself.
My Week with Marilyn is based off of the diary of Colin Clark, in which he documented his experience with Marilyn Monroe and the woman he got to meet offset, Marilyn. His story helps us see that her story was about much more than a trademark white dress.
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