Sound like you've seen, read, and heard it before? You have. Simon Curtis' My Week With Marilyn treads the exceptionally well-worn turf of exploring Marilyn Monroe from the viewpoints of the men surrounding her. Curtis invites the audience to be enrapt, aroused, frustrated, and perplexed by Marilyn along with Sir. Laurence Olivier, Arthur Miller, and most directly, Colin Clark, a young director's assistant and the film's protagonist. Moments of intimacy between Colin and Marilyn hint at a well known, but compelling, contrast between Marilyn's public persona and her private struggles. The audience, however, sees these moments from Colin's perspective, again cementing the understanding of Marilyn as object, rather than subject.
Michelle Williams is alluring and delightful to watch as Marilyn, yet she is narrowly confined within a conventionally written Monroe. Her character vacillates predictably between "little girl lost" and dangerous temptress. One moment she is enchanted by a royal dollhouse, next the audience sees her shimmying and winking for adoring male crowds. She is desperately insecure and is manipulated throughout the film by almost every other character, from Olivier, to Colin, to her costars, acting coach, and driver. While this depiction may be true to Monroe's story, its redundancy and refusal to place a multi-dimensional Monroe within her own story, begs the question, why make the film at all?
Eddie Redmayne's Colin Clark is a sympathetic, yet uninteresting protagonist. Through no fault of Redmayne's, Clark's character does little to merit attention, besides appearing in almost every scene of the film. He earns Marilyn's trust through his wide-eyed guilelessness, and attempts to navigate his interest in Marilyn with his professional allegiance to Olivier. He too manipulates Marilyn, whispering encouragement for her to show up to work on time and deliver an inspired performance as he comforts her in bed. Ultimately he delivers a bland plea for her to leave show business and run away with him, an offer that she does not appear tempted to accept. At the same time as the start of his relationship with Marilyn, Colin embarks on a fling with Lucy, a wardrobe assistant, whom he later scorns in favor of Marilyn. Toward the end of the film Lucy asks Colin if Marilyn broke his heart, and when he responds in the affirmative, states "good, it needed breaking." This conversation reminds the audience that the film is not about Marilyn at all, but about Colin's experience with his first heartbreak.
It is a shame that Williams' Monroe appears primarily as a backdrop for this coming of age story. She is more intriguing than Clark's character, and could have been attributed more depth. Williams' character articulates her role in the film best when, in response to Clark's encouragement that she "see the sights," she responds "I am the sights." Marilyn Monroe will never be a feminist icon, yet she was a full person, and an actor in her own story, rather than just scenery in the stories of those around her. A movie that acknowledged this and attempted to explore it, would perhaps be a new Marilyn Monroe movie worth seeing.
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