Audiences tend to love or loathe Marilyn Monroe. Decades after her untimely death, we're still perversely fascinated by her sad duality, by the contrast between the pose she affected as a true Hollywood star and the insecurity of the little girl lost just beneath the surface. She's a twisted figure of the Golden Age, a true legend whispered and wondered about, an animated caricature, someone used as sex symbol and security blanket. My Week with Marilyn capitalizes on that split nature in a way that's almost enchanting. It doesn't dive to the lowest lows in a lurid tabloid manner, but instead captures something of the spirit of Marilyn, seeking to bottle what it was about her that so captivated those she came in contact with. We don't get a biopic or a "Star is Born" rise and fall here, but merely a gentle, lovely, picture book of a film built off of impressionistic moments and the ghostly possession of an actress by a glamorous icon. Your choice here is simple: choose to fall willingly into Harvey Weinstein's Oscar-bait formula or denounce it as trite (with nice performances).
There are no two ways around it. My Week with Marilyn is pure Oscar-cruiser and a safe bet for nominations in multiple categories, particularly a Best Actress nod for Michelle Williams. It's another in a long line of movies about movies, a trip to the wax works with beautiful photography and the thrill of the nearly fulfilled fantasy. The 'my' of the title refers to Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year old cinephile from a well to do family who scored the opportunity of a lifetime the summer he became third assistant director on Laurence Olivier's production of The Prince and the Showgirl. The film may have been a tremendous flop (and certainly looks like very little here), but in its filming, Colin walked amongst his idols. Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench), Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond, a very poor choice), and American bombshell: Marilyn Monroe. The production is an absolute disaster from day one, with Marilyn constantly delaying filming, repeatedly falling victim to pitiable self esteem, pouting, and expressing uncertainties as to her own abilities in fleeing cries of "I just can't do this." Olivier's agitation is amusing, but understandable. Marilyn is impossible in a way similar to Kirsten Dunst's character in Melancholia. She's so infuriatingly fragile, so obviously off that in many ways filming her at all feels like a violation. Somehow, though, Colin breaks through to her. He's a gaping fan dizzy at the sight of her face at a time when the cast and crew are up in arms. He's young, safe, and innocent; the perfect confidant for a woman used to being used as a means to an end.
The story is a supposedly true one, as you may have gathered, based off of the real Colin Clark's production diaries. While there's no way of knowing just how their quiet moments together truly played out, there's a beauty to them here that's quite remarkable and which captures something of the slack-jawed rush of a dizzying crush. For a winter tale on a troubled starlet, everything flits lightly along, entertaining audiences enough that they likely won't realize just how loose the plot is. Eddie Redmayne may be the main character here, but his role is a supporting one that works to remind us what it is we ever saw in these larger than life titans, how we can be intoxicated by their personas and caught up in the idea of their obtainability when we see that they are real people.
As Marilyn, Michelle Williams pulls something very different out of her sleeve. By this point, we know that she's an incredible talent. She's proven this time and again, most recently in Blue Valentine and Meek's Cutoff. Here, she takes a quiet risk. This is not the strong, understated actress we're used to seeing, but someone appropriately vulnerable and, at times, garishly loud. Williams is a surprisingly good proxy for Marilyn from figure to face. She's not the floozy Monroe, glitzed out and trimmed with furs, but the pristine, young, confused bottle blonde quaking with a devastating shyness. From certain angles, with a brilliant team of gaffers at the ready, Williams becomes Marilyn. While the other actors can't claim as much, Williams is worth the price of admission. Still, at the end of the day, while you may like the film (I did), there is an element of politicking in its mere existence. When you see it - and you will - see it for the old Hollywood swoon, for Williams, and for a popcorn flick without all the CG bells and whistles. Just... don't mistake it for a Best Picture game changer.